"When Frank Young hits shots, we don't lose," said Alex Ruoff, who has made 16 of his last 26 from beyond the arc and had eight assists in the game against no turnovers. "Frank Young is unstoppable in the first 10 minutes of the game."
Da'Sean Butler added 14 off the bench for the Mountaineers and Joe Alexander and Ruoff scored 10 and nine, respectively, in a balanced offensive effort. West Virginia has led three of its last four opponents by no fewer than 20 points at the half since its lone loss to Arkansas. It was the seventh game in 10 outings in which WVU has made more than 10 3-pointers.
"It's hard to explain how well they shoot," said first-year Citadel head coach Ed Conroy. "We knew coming in they were an incredibly skilled team. Their version of basketball is particularly difficult. It is a little unique. They made it very difficult for us."
West Virginia again did it by combining the outside shot with its 1-3-1 defense. It forced 16 Bulldog turnovers and limited the Citadel to 29.5 percent (13 of 44) shooting from the field. The Mountaineers rank third in the nation in steals per game – they got nine in the game to total 118 for the season – and first in scoring defense with an average below 50 points per game.
"We had some guys open, but it was hard to see," Conroy said. "Their 1-3-1 is difficult because of the size they bring to it. Overall, I wasn't really discouraged. When guys like Young and Ruoff are hitting threes and the crowd is against you, none of our guys were dropping their heads."
WVU put the game away with two dunks surrounding Young's third 3-pointer as the Citadel (2-10) was held to one field goal over a seven-minute stretch to trail 27-11 with 4:30 left. Butler increased the lead with a four-point play – making a 3-pointer and the resulting free throw – then got a steal and dunk in the next minute. Ruoff's 3-pointer in between Butler's scores made it 36-14 with two minutes left before the break. Each team added a bucket for a 38-16 halftime score. The Citadel's 16 points were the second-fewest allowed by WVU this season. It was also the second-fewest scored by the Bulldogs this season. They had 12 at the break against Notre Dame, their only other Big East foe, and have not beaten a Division I team this season. The Citadel never got closer than the halftime score afterward.
The Bulldogs were led by Donny McClendon and Kevin Hammack, who each scoffed 10 points. Hammack, the all-time career leader in assists at the Citadel with 396, tallied just two against West Virginia. They were minus starter J'Mel Everhart, who bruised a bone Dec. 4 against Appalachian State and has not played since.
"We continue to play hard no matter who the opponent is," said West Virginia head coach John Beilein, who advanced to 19-0 in December non-conference games in his five years with the program. "I liked the effort the Citadel gave. We will really find out in Big East play how good our defense is. It is good, though."
The win helped setup a potential showdown between a once-beaten West Virginia team and No. 14 Connecticut, which should be 11-0 when it travels to WVU on Dec. 30. That will be the first time in during the season that UConn has left its home state for a game. WVU must beat Maryland-Eastern Shore to solidify the once-beaten match-up.
"I don't have an explanation for the hot start," Alexander said. "Frank was hot, and we have been able to play well and jump out early."
Young and Ruoff, especially, have carried West Virginia in its last four games, with Ruoff hitting 16 threes and Young totaling 64 points, an average of 16 per contest. Young has 26 threes in the last four games. The trio of Young, Ruoff and Butler have averaged a combined 32 points per game. Young is averaging 12.9 points to lead the team, while Alexander tallies a 12.5 per game clip. The three older players sat most of the last seven minutes, when Beilein emptied the bench.
"I am comfortable with the freshman paying," point guard Darris Nichols said. like any freshmen they are going to mess up but I have faith that they can step up when the time comes in the Big East conference."
The Mountaineers have the one last tune-up before the Huskies. Entering against the Citadel, the level of competition had showed a bit in the stats, where WVU ranked third in the NCAA in fewest turnovers (94) and third in steals per game (12.1). It was fourth in 3-pointers at 11.2 per game, and now has 1114 this season, which leads the Big East. Foes are averaging less than 50 points per game in losses, and West Virginia has won the nine games by a combined 227 points.
It has won nine of first 10 games for just the second time in 12 years. That matches second-best start since 1981-82, when WVU went 27-4 overall. It won his 40th game in 51 tries under Beilein when making 10-plus 3-pointers. The match-up was the first time the teams have met since WVU left the Southern Conference in 1968, after it won an NCAA-record 44 consecutive league contests. The Citadel was a two-time victim during the streak, which still stands as the most consecutive league wins in NCAA basketball history. WVU is now 58-21 against the league's teams.