The Mountaineers, led by Joe Alexander's career-high 26 points, hit a sizzling 55.4 percent of their shots in a 92-68 victory against a team ranked in the NCAA top 10 in field goal percentage defense and winning margin. West Virginia, however, is first in both, and it showcased the difference. WVU used an early 15-2 run to lead 25-13 with just nine minutes played, and methodically pulled away from Duquesne by making 20 of its first 33 shots and 33 of 59 overall.
"We have pretty good shooters," said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, who earned his 597th career win to pass Georgetown's John Thompson for 32nd on the all-time NCAA list. "We're improving, but at a snail's pace. That's good, because we don't miss anything."
Much like Alexander. The forward hit nine of 19 field goals, dissecting the man-to-man pressure with a variety of jump shots and drives. He also made all eight of his free throws, part of a season-best 19 of 23 performance from the foul line overall for the Mountaineers, and scored 10 consecutive second-half points.
That spurt gave West Virginia a 77-53 lead with 8:50 remaining to essentially seal the win. The Mountaineers were already in the double bonus by that point, and Alexander took advantage of some Duquesne foul trouble to attack the basket. His 10 straight points were part of a six-minute stretch during which he tallied 12 of West Virginia's 18 to extend the edge from 62-47 to 80-53, the biggest of the game, with 7:15 left.
"He was pretty ordinary in the first half," Huggins said of Alexander. "In the second half he played very well. He wants to be good. It's a matter of breaking old habits and creating new ones. He took a lot of shots fading away in the first half. He didn't in the second. It may seem like I am asking him to do a lot, but I would not ask him to do that much if I did not think he could do it."
Da'Sean Butler added a career-high 18 points, including a 3-pointer to give West Virginia its largest lead. Alex Ruoff and John Flowers added 15 and 13, respectively, for the Mountaineers (7-1), which have won 19 of their last 20 nonconference games and defeated Duquesne for the fourth straight season to lead the all-time series 47-36.
West Virginia held the Dukes to 41.5 percent from the floor and forced 15 turnovers, including nine steals. The Mountaineers limited Duquesne to no offensive rebounds in the first half and a season-low six for the game. WVU had a 38-24 advantage in rebounding overall.
"We just got beat, physically beat up by a better basketball team," said Duquesne head coach Ron Everhart, a native of Fairmont, W.Va. "Everything that we tried to do they handled well. We just could not guard them. Alexander and (Da'Sean) Butler put it on the floor and distorted our defense right from the start. They got after us. We didn't rebound the ball well, we didn't get back in transition and the game got out of hand."
Duquesne, led by Shawn James' 18 points, took its only lead at 11-10 with 17 minutes left after Jamie Smalligan was called for a flagrant foul. Smalligan shoved Bill Clark to the floor at midcourt after Clark threw an elbow the officials did not see. Smalligan was ejected and Clark made the resulting free throws.
The altercation sparked West Virginia, which immediately went on a 15-2 run. Butler scored six points and Flowers had four, including an inside basket that put the Mountaineers ahead 25-13 with 10:41 remaining. Duquesne answered with a 13-4 push that made it 29-26. West Virginia scored seven of the last nine points of the half for a 48-37 lead at the break.
"Anytime that happens it will fire you up," Ruoff said. "I was really fired up until the referees took 20 minutes to start the game back up. One of us got thrown out, and we don't like that. The referees always catch the retaliation. (Smalligan) lost his head for a minute. He will be all right and be back."