One For The Road

Joe Alexander and Da'Sean Butler each scored 17 points and West Virginia overcame a slow start to record its first Big East road victory with an 89-83 win at Rutgers on Wednesday.

It appeared as though the contest would resemble past league road games for the Mountaineers. WVU (17-4, 6-3 Big East) trailed early and was allowed penetration and putback points at alarming rates. But when West Virginia finally went small, Alexander came up big. With centers Jamie Smalligan and Rob Summers out of the game, the sophomore sandwiched a 3-pointer from the wing with a dunk around six other points in a stretch in which the Mountaineers rallied from a 50-48 deficit to a 59-54 lead with 10 minutes left. And with the game still holding at the five-point margin five minutes later, Alexander scored six consecutive points, including four straight on backdoor dunks, to seal the game with a 79-70 lead with two minutes remaining. The nine-point bulge was the largest WVU edge in the game.

It was the second straight game in which Alexander has been the predominate prod for West Virginia. He hit a career-high 23 in the last outing against DePaul, including a 3-pointer and a lay-up late in the game. Against Rutgers (9-13, 2-7), Alexander's utilized his superior athleticism and quickness to drive past defenders, grab rebounds and defend effectively. He was matched by Butler, who came off the bench in front of his home state for a career-high in points and helped West Virginia stay in the game after the slow start with six points in the middle of the first half. He hit two long shots on step-backs and added defensive finesse at the point of the 1-3-1 and toughness underneath in the same set.

The win was uber-satisfying for the Mountaineers, who had lost their first three Big East road games – including one at last-place Cincinnati – and were facing a near must-win against Seton hall on Saturday because of upcoming games against top 10 foes Pitt and UCLA. WVU turned the ball over five times in as many minutes in the first half, but settled to turn it over just twice more as its offensive flow and execution took over. West Virginia shot 65 percent from the floor (30 of 46) and a sizzling 66.7 percent from 3-point range (14 of 21) that helped hold off Rutgers' best offensive performance and most points in any game this season. WVU made eight of 11 free throws down the stretch to hold on.

"I don't worry about winning on the road so much," West Virginia head coach John Beilein said. "But it's go big in the media. You don't get many anyway, and it wears on the kids. We just kept reassuring the kids that they were winning the game, going to win the game."

Alexander and Butler combined to make 12 of 18 shots. Darris Nichols and Frank Young added 16 points and 11 points, respectively, and Smalligan matched a career-high with 10 in the most balanced scoring of the season. Nichols also tallied four rebounds and three assists. Rutgers was led by Jaron Griffins's career-high 19 points. J.R. Inman added 15 before fouling out with less than one minute remaining. Adrian Hill had 15 for RU, which shot 53.1 percent after averaging just 35 percent for the season and being the lowest-scoring league team.

"We did a good job of settling after the first four minutes and playing the type of basketball we could play," said Young, who made all three of his 3-point tries, including one that . "After that first four minutes, we only had two more turnovers the rest of the way. We hit key baskets and free throws for the win and did a good job of taking the threes when they were open. Then we drove when the threes were not open."

Or found Alexander on the backcuts to carve up Rutgers, which had lost two Big East games by more than 20 points and is just 1-4 at home this season. The Scarlet Knights took their final lead at 52-51 after a series in which the lead changed six times in the first seven second-half minutes, part of 11 lead changes overall. But an Alexander dunk and a wide-open 3-pointer from the top of the key by Young put West Virginia head by five, and Rutgers could never get the stops it needed to retake the lead. When RU got within one at 62-61, Butler drove by a defender and dumped in a lay-up. Rutgers never got within one possession again.

"Da'Sean and Wellington (Smith) came off the bench to give us great minutes," Young said of the New Jersey natives. "Especially Da'Sean. He played great on both ends, taking charges and helping us on offense. It is great to get this win. We can stop talking about it and go play basketball in the rest of the road trips we have. We are happy to finally have it."

It looked early like it would be difficult, especially with the blistering pace of the first half. Rutgers ripped off the first seven points, all from inside, then extended the lead to 17-9 via Hill and Inman inside and Marquis Webb's 3-pointer with 12:41 remaining. West Virginia had five turnovers to that point, and hadn't yet run through its offensive effectively in consecutive trips. That changed when Alex Ruoff buried a deep 3-pointer from the right side to start a 26-11 run that moved WVU from behind by eight to ahead seven at 35-28 with 4:42 left in the half.

The Mountaineers hit seven threes in the push while showcasing great balance. Butler, playing in front of his home state for the first time at WVU, scored six straight points in the and nine of 11 at one point. Of the 15 other points, Nichols, Young and Smith all hit threes, and the shooting excellence – West Virginia made its first seven threes on the way to an eight-of-11 half from the outside – parlayed into a defensive pick-up. WVU began to shut down the lanes and force Rutgers to beat it from the outside. After 15 off RU's first 21 points came from inside the paint, West Virginia further extended the 1-3-1, giving the Knights corner jumpers and eliminating the interior. The few misses (RU, the worst shooting team in the Big East at 35 percent, shot 48 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes) got the Mountaineers back into the game before seven of Rutgers' last nine points of the first half came on jumpers.

Rutgers had 18 points in the paint at the break, but had been outscored 17-7 in bench play. The scoring was the most balanced by both teams in any WVU game this season. Butler had nine, while five other players had from four to six points. Rutgers was led by nine from Inman, while five others had four or more points. WVU's 70 percent shooting was the best in a single half this year. The previous high was 55 percent against Maryland-Eastern Shore.

West Virginia improved to 19-4 all-time when Young hits three or more 3-pointers. The Mountaineers made 14 to improve upon their Big East-leading 10.6 per game, which ranks third in the NCAA. WVU has won its 17 games by a combined 363 points, or an average of 21.4. The Mountaineers have made 10 or more threes in 13 games this season. The win moves them into third place in the league, tied with Notre Dame. Rutgers has lost six of its last seven.

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