The tandem of Summers and Smalligan really stepped it up tonight, both taking their games to a whole new level in the final effort before the Big East season starts on Saturday. The two combined for 19 points and 15 rebounds, a more than respectable output from the center position.
"Rob was affected last year by not being able to beat out [Kevin] Pittsnogle, Beilein explained. "He knew he would be limited. He came back this year with a sense of purpose and he's really helping us."
"I'm getting more confidence, building every game," Summers smiled. "These first games before the Big East season starts gave us confidence, the confidence we need for the Big East."
Summers seemed always to be in the right place at the right time, moving with ease in the paint and out, and Smalligan looked much more comfortable, letting the game come to him rather than pressing and trying to force things.
In addition to the impressive play from the 5-spot, the Mountaineers unveiled another impressive weapon tonight: the slam dunk. Memories of the old Phi Slamma Jamma days danced before the eyes of an appreciative crowd. And it wasn't just from Joe Alexander. He was joined above the rim by Wellington Smith, Rob Summers, and Jamie Smalligan. "It felt good," Smalligan laughed, "especially after missing that last one [in the previous game]. The whole State of West Virginia thought I can't dunk."
"I think we had more slam dunks tonight that we did all of last season," Coach Beilein grinned, "but they're only 2 points. We do have a pretty athletic group and the kids love it." Alex Ruoff agreed. "Joe and Wellington can get up there."
Smalligan also showed off that soft ‘Snogglish shot we've been waiting to see, with a beautiful 3-pointer just before the first half closed.
WVU started the game with 2 missed shots by Alex Ruoff before Frank Young got the Blue and Gold on the board with the first 2 of his game-high 16 points of the evening. There was a little messiness around the basket with a few missed shots early on before senior leaders Young and Summers settled things down. Summers had the other 4 of the Mountaineers' first 6 points on rescue tip-ins, a recurring theme of the evening.
After Joe Alexander sank a hangin'-off-the-rim slam dunk 5 minutes into the first period, followed by a nice layup, the Mountaineers moved out to a 12-0 lead before UMES got on the board. Alexander, who is quickly becoming a crowd favorite, went out for a brief rest at 13:30 to a big ovation from the Mountaineer faithful. Da'Sean Butler, his replacement, then dropped in 5 points in the next 14 seconds, taking the score to 17-3. Butler also showed off his version of that old Jo Herber kick move, taking the Hawks out of their game rhythm.
West Virginia's offensive circus didn't stop with the dunking. The 3s poured in from everywhere – Butler from the Pittsnogle corner, Young from 2:00, Alex Ruoff from, it seemed, the Mountainlair.
His coach was very pleased with Ruoff's floor presence. "He's like Jo [Herber] and Pat [Beilein]. It was like they could see the court in slow motion. Al has that slow motion vision, too, and it makes us tick."
Ruoff chuckled at the idea that he's calm, cool, and collected on the court. "I put on a good face," he said. "But I love playing with this team."
The Mountaineer defense put in what is becoming its usual impressive effort, with lots of hustle, energy, and forced turnovers. UMES was forced into shot clock violations several times, and Darris Nichols is almost certainly covered with floor burns after a couple of substantial slides across the court to grab loose balls. The Marylanders tried everything, but nothing worked against the determined WVU cagers. Their frustration built and built, their shots wouldn't fall, and late in the second half, when WVU had doubled their pleasure, doubled their fun, and doubled their score, the UMES players released some pretty egregious slams and pushes that didn't get called for fouls and should have. Joe Mazzulla, who got meaningful minutes tonight, was the recipient of two of the worst shoves, including one that landed him face down in the lane, and unleashed the wrath of the crowd on his behalf.
As if all that transpired, both offensively and defensively, on the hardwood tonight were not enough, every single Mountaineer got fairly significant playing time. The West Virginia fans jumped to their feet with a roar of approval when walk-on native son Ted Talkington was inserted into the game with more than 6 minutes remaining. Everybody earned a letter tonight, and it came with a big gold star on top.