It didn't come easily. Alexander's six straight points in a key late stretch pushed West Virginia's lead from a five-point edge to 61-48 with 1:30 left. That sealed a grinding game in which neither team scored any more than six consecutive points.
"He has amazing one-on-one ability," said Alex Ruoff, who added 12 points and seven assists for the Mountaineers. "His quickness to the basket is on the pro level."
That was something lacking on the past two West Virginia teams, both of which relied on the outside shot to win. With Alexander, WVU now has a weapon that can work even if 3-pointers aren't falling. The Mountaineers hit eight against DePaul, three off their season average, and none in the first 14 minutes of the second half. But Alexander kept pace with short jumpshots, driving lay-ups and free throws. Then he showcased his versatility – and finished the game.
Alexander knifed into the lane and hit a twisting lay-up to start West Virginia's most dominant stretch, a 14-4 push that led to the 61-48 advantage. He then scored six more points in the run, flashing his outside-inside touch via a 3-pointer as the shot clock expired and a three-point play in the traditional manner.
"Joe is doing less to do more," WVU coach John Beilein said. "He is letting the game come to him and he is not having to force anything. At shot clock time, he did a great job of finding some nooks and crannies against a very good defensive team."
DePaul held West Virginia to just one field goal in the first 11 minutes of the second half and seemed primed to make a push in the final five minutes using its superior inside game before Alexander's outburst. The Demons (12-10, 3-5) outshot WVU and had just 11 turnovers in losing its second straight road game.
"I don't know that I have ever lost a game by 12 when we were shooting 51 percent and had 11 turnovers," DePaul coach Jerry Wainright said. "Joe Alexander made some back-breaking baskets. He was the difference in the game."
It was the 14th time in 20 games this season that Alexander scored at least 10 points. His previous game high was 18 points, coming against both Montana and Savannah State. He had rarely scored more than 10 against Big East foes.
"We are starting to get really poised at the end of games," Alexander said. "We are developing a mentality where we recognize when the game is on the line and we need to put it away. This was one we needed."
West Virginia led throughout for a key win in the middle of four road games. It plays its next two games on the road – where it is winless in league play and has lost four games in as many against major conference foes – before facing ninth-ranked Pitt and No. 3 UCLA.
"At the end of the year, maybe I'll say, you know what, that was a key game," Beilein said. "But I can't predict the future and I can't predict what we'll do in the last 10 games. It's just a great step in the right direction for us to beat another good team at home, one that was picked at the top of the conference in the preseason polls."
DePaul was led by Wilson Chandler and Sammy Meija, who scored 11 and 10 points, respectively. The Demons had three other players with eight or more points in a balanced effort and stayed in the game by matching West Virginia's eight threes with 30 points in the paint.
The two teams were the last duo to meet in Big East play following the league's restructuring after three of its schools went to the ACC. Before this game, the teams last met in the 1945 NIT, when DePaul beat West Virginia in the first round of the NIT on the way to a national championship.