The top NIT seed in the East Region, West Virginia – which advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals or better the previous two seasons – scored 21 of the final 23 first half points, including a 16-0 run over the final five minutes to lead 39-13 at the break. The Mountaineers (23-9) did make four 3-pointers in five baskets to turn a 20-11 lead into a 34-13 edge. But they finished with just seven threes overall, tying their fewest in nine games after making an average of 11.6 over the previous five, including a Big East Tournament-record 17 against Providence in the opening round.
"We have showed we can shoot the ball well, and tonight we showed we can get to the basket, penetrate and find people," said Ruoff, who also added a career-high nine assists. "It showed our versatility as a team. It was important to be aggressive and attack."
Delaware State, which gained an automatic NIT bid via its second consecutive MEAC regular season title, failed to score over the final 5:08 of the first half and the first 49 seconds of the second. Its 13 first-half points were the second-fewest allowed by West Virginia this season and the fewest it has allowed at home since Rhode Island scored 13 in 1987.
"WVU is probably as good of a team as we have played all year long," Delaware State head coach Greg Jackson said. "It would probably take a week to get ready, and we'd probably still have the same result. They do so much offensively. It's hard to defend a team that moves so well. All five guys move on the floor."
The Hornets managed to play evenly with West Virginia for the first 13 minutes, trailing just 17-11. But WVU caused confusion with a mixture of man and its trademark 1-3-1 zone as Delaware State made just one field goal over the final 7:06 of the first half. It never got closer than 18 points afterward.
"We got ugly points early, then got pretty ones later to get that big lead," said West Virginia head coach John Beilein, who recorded his 100th win in five years at the school. "I think we are starting to understand that we have another gear on offense. We got early leverage, got ahead of our men. If we would have played this team early in they year, we would not have had the feel now that we have for the game."
West Virginia's largest lead came on Ruoff's free throws to make it 68-38 with 3:29 left. It combined for 23 points on turnovers and in the fast break, while holding even on the boards at 31-31. It also assisted on 20 of 30 baskets and committed just seven turnovers to DSU's 12.
"Once we got rebounds we really kicked it in the transition game and got easy baskets," Young said. "We didn't have a lot of open threes, so we really attacked the basket and got to the free throw line. That's how we made our run."
The same couldn't be said for Delaware State (21-13) as it failed to get to the free throw line for the first time this year and missed 23 of 29 3-pointers. It was led by MEAC Player of the Year Jahsha Bluntt's game-high 19 points. He ranks third on DSU's all-time scoring list with 1,721 points. The Hornets, seeded eighth in the NIT for the second straight season, lost all seven of their games against major conference foes this year. It is in the postseason for the third consecutive time, a first in its 26 years in Division I. WVU is in the postseason for the fourth straight year for the first time in 18 years.
Da'Sean Butler came off the bench to add nine points for West Virginia, which advanced to 17-15 all-time in playing in its 15 NIT. The Mountaineers are now 9-0 all-time against MEAC foes and have won 14 of 15 at home this season and 30 of their last 32. WVU finished with seven 3-pointers, giving it 328 for the season, nine off the school-record 337 set last season. The Mountaineers, which lead the Big East in 3-pointers per game with a 10.2 average, have broken the school record for threes each of the past two years.
"Delaware State was a great opponent, but unfortunately they caught us on a terrific night," Beilein said. "I was worried about any type of hangover from the NCAA decision. With out No. 1 seed, it seems like we were just out. But if you look at this NIT, it's one of the best I have seen. It's just incredible."
Beilein's first game at West Virginia was a 59-46 win over Delaware State in 2002. He becomes the fifth WVU coach to reach 100 wins in the school's 101 years of basketball with the win, which sets up the Mountaineers to play host to the winner of No. 4 UMass and No. 5 Alabama on Thursday at 9 p.m. in the round of 16. WVU will play all its games at home until the semifinals, held in New York's Madison Square Garden, should it continue to win.
"I like our chances when we have a short prep and the other team has a short prep, because I know we are hard to prepare for," said Ruoff. "We're playing real hard for the NIT championship, and for Frank and Rob (Summers, a fellow senior. We have great leadership on this team. We're over (the NCAAs) and I don't feel like any guys were hanging their heads."