Huggins, in his first season at his alma mater, took a hint from USC's Tim Floyd and installed a triangle-and-two defense before the game. It worked, as the Mountaineers routed No. 10 Marquette 79-64 Sunday for Huggins' 601st career win, and his most significant since taking the job.
West Virginia opted for the seldom-used triangle-and-two and 1-3-1 zones for the majority of the game, surprising a Marquette squad expecting Huggins' physical man defense. The 14 turnovers forced, combined with five 3-pointers and 19 points from Alex Ruoff, helped the Mountaineers beat a top 10 team for the first time since it knocked off then-No. 2 UCLA 70-65 on Feb. 10 last season.
"I was hoping that would get them out of rhythm," Huggins said. "I have never done it in my career, so there is no way they could have known we were going to do it. I watched the USC-Memphis game and saw how USC really bothered a good Memphis team, so I called Tim Floyd. He helped us out, and the boys learned the system quickly."
Alexander added 19 points and Da'Sean Butler hit three 3s and had 13 points – 11 in the first half – for West Virginia, which cruised to a 10-1 start before dropping a pair of games to Oklahoma and Notre Dame. The losses seemed to give credence to Huggins' claim that the hot start was merely "fool's gold."
Nothing looked foolish about West Virginia's 13th straight home win, and sixth straight in Big East openers. Ruoff, who predicted West Virginia would win before the game, made timely threes to continually hold off Marquette when it threatened. He made one from the corner to cap a 6-0 push to start the second half, then made three in as many minutes as the Mountaineers (11-3, 1-1 Big East) built a 66-54 edge with 2:56 left in the game.
"You never want to start conference play 0-2," Ruoff said. "Really, our level of play has been down (lately). We got back to that level of intensity."
Lazar Hayward and Wesley Matthews scored 13 points each to lead Marquette (11-2, 1-1), which had won even in a row since a four-point loss to No. 9 Duke in late November. But the Golden Eagles' backcourt sensation of Jerel McNeal and Dominic James was held to a combined 20 points on just 8-of-20 shooting, and 2-of-8 from beyond the arc.
The duel zones created nine turnovers in the first nine minutes as West Virginia forged a 21-11 lead with 9:48 left in the opening half. It appeared primed to run away with the game until Marquette's 12-0 push gave it a 23-21 lead on Hayward's free throws with 4:27 left in the half. The Golden Eagles stayed within 29-28 at the break, then used the momentum off an 8-0 run in the first four minutes of the second half to lead 43-40 with 14:50 remaining on another pair of Hayward free throws with 14:50 left.
West Virginia immediately answered with 11 of the next 13 points, including a key Alexander jumper to take control of the game with about 10 minutes left. It extended the lead to as much as 17 at 73-56 on Ruoff's free throw with one minute remaining.
"We didn't match their energy," Marquette head coach Tom Crean said. "It took us three to four possessions to get used to the triangle and two. We were lethargic and it carried through the whole game. When you play like that, you're not going to be able to compete in the Big East. That's just an inexcusable effort."
West Virginia's Darris Nichols scored 12 points, half of those coming on free throws with less than two minutes left. It was part of 13 consecutive made free throws during the final 1:51 to seal the win. The more physical Mountaineers went 22-of-29 from the line overall and also had a healthy rebounding advantage (38-26), taking advantage of the three- and sometimes four-guard offense that Marquette employs.
"The team was really into it," Huggins said. "This is the best job they have done with the scouting report all year. In two days, the team digested it and knew who we wanted to guard and where we wanted to guard them."