600 Huggs: Mountaineers Top Canisius

Joe Alexander and Alex Ruoff proved to be too much for Canisius as West Virginia defeated the Golden Griffins 77-54.

Alexander finished with a game-high 20 points and six rebounds to bounce back from a woeful shooting night earlier in the week at Radford. Throughout the game, Alexander played under control and within himself as he continued to show the growth that has become apparent in year three of his collegiate career.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Alexander's game was his performance from the foul line. The 6'8" forward was 10-11 from the charity stripe, which contributed to West Virginia's overall 19-26 performance from the foul line.

Ruoff continues to shine, this time with 14 points including four 3s to create distance between his Mountaineers (10-1) and the pesky Golden Griffins.

Canisius was able to frustrate the Mountaineers for much of the first half, using a deliberate four corners attack to set up one-on-one match-ups hoping to take advantage of quickness off the dribble. Of course the other part of that equation is putting the ball in the hoop, which the Golden Griffins more often than not failed to do against the intense man-to-man pressure of West Virginia.

The Grifs made just five of 19 shot attempts in the first half, and only shot 35 percent overall for the game. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers were carving up Canisius on the other end of the court, finishing with 50 percent shooting on the night despite a somewhat-lackluster 6-16 performance from downtown.

Simply put, the Mountaineers dominated in every phase of the game. Though they forced just 12 turnovers, West Virginia managed 17 points off of those miscues. With opportunities from the outside lacking, the Mountaineers took advantage of a a soft spot in the lane, chalking up 34 points in the paint, and scoring 18 points off of 12 offensive rebounds.

"I thought we played pretty well, really," Huggins said afterward. "That's hard to play like that and I thought we sustained our intensity pretty good. We didn't shoot particularly well for us. We missed some shots we normally don't miss."

Initially, it looked as though Canisius would muck up the game enough to make it competitive. With the Mountaineers leading 14-12 inside of the 10 minute mark in the first half, Ruoff and Alexander fueled a 19-5 run to close the opening frame, culminating with Wellington Smith's follow-up slam at the horn just moments after Smith had laid out Golden Griffin guard Frank Turner on a hard screen near the top of the key. The Golden Griffins had an 8:08 field goal drought in the first half, and managed just one made field goal over the final 8:26 of the opening 20 minutes.

In the second half, it was more of the same for the Mountaineers. Ruoff opened with a pair of dead-eye 3s, and Alexander would soon score seven straight Mountaineer points to thwart any hopes of an upset for Canisius (1-10).

"Joe Alexander gets better and better," Huggins said. "I thought Joe stayed with things pretty well and that was a hard game for somebody like Joe to play."

Were it not for Polish import Pawel Malesa, things could have been much worse for Canisius. The senior forward finished with a team-high 16 points, including five three-pointers to at least keep the Mountaineer defense honest on the perimeter. The Griffs actually out-shot the Mountaineers from outside, finising with nine makes in 20 attempts.

Then again, that was about all that went right for the home team. Once the Mountaineers survived the initial challenge put forth by the quirky half-court sets, all that was left to figure out was the final margin of victory.

"West Virginia is a powerful team. We decided to take a little edge off them and open up the floor," second-year Canisius coach Tom Parrotta said. "When you look at it, my guys didn't quit today, they didn't back down, they didn't cower under the pressure from a big, strong team.

"Today was a great learning experience and something we'll build around."

While the Griffins are building their program, Huggins continues to build his Hall of Fame resume. Saturday's win was No. 600 of the Huggy Bear's career, which includes stops at Walsh College, the University of Akron, the University of Cincinnati, and Kansas State in addition to his recent homecoming in Morgantown. Huggins joins the likes of active coaches Bob Knight of Texas Tech, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, Jim Calhoun of Connecticut, Mike Kryzewski of Duke, and Lute Olson of Arizona, all of whom are also over the 700 win mark.

"That just means I'm getting old," quipped Huggins. "All of those guys have one thing in common: they are all old."

Da'Sean Butler added 10 points for the Mountaineers, who now have a week off before taking on Oklahoma at the Charleston Civic Center next Saturday night.

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