He Can Guard, Too

It goes without saying that Joe Alexander can score some points. He can score off the bounce, drain the mid-range jumper, and even step outside to knock down the occasional three-point basket. And he's done so to the tune of nearly 16 points per game.

Alexander can produce the highlight reel play, namely with breathtaking flight to the rim before slamming home the rock, or tossing away the would-be shot attempt from an opposing player.

To be fair, he can also do too much from time to time, such as putting his head down and barreling through a defender only to be whistled for an obvious charge, leaving head coach Bob Huggins with his arms extended outward so as to say "Why?".

On Sunday afternoon, Mountaineer fans found out one more thing about the junior forward: the kid can play a little bit of defense, too.

We're not talking about blocking shots, though that is certainly a strong aspect of Alexander's defensive repertoire. We're talking about getting down in your your stance and playing suffocating, wire-to-wire, all up in your grill defense. You know, the kind that Bob Huggins's teams always play, and the kind that the Mountaineers are continuing to master under the watchful eye of their first-year head coach and his impressive staff.

Much of West Virginia's defensive gameplan centered around slowing down SU freshman forward Donte Green. The 6-10 phenom entered the game averaging a Big East-best 19.4 ppg. Though his size is that of a traditional post player, Green was content to fire away from downtown. And each time he did, Alexander was right there with him. Chest to chest. Hand in face.

When it was all said and done, Green still finished with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds, but did so on just three for 10 shooting in a contest in which nobody else on his team seemed willing to step up when it became apparent that Alexander's defense was getting the better of the future NBA lottery pick.

Afterwards, Alexander's defense was the hot topic amongst Mountaineer players and coaches.

"Joe Alexander is always stepping up," said sophomore forward Wellington Smith. "He always wants to step up and play on defense. His defense is getting a lot better since last year. He guarded him really, really well. He only had 10 points. Joe played really great defense on him, and that showed today."

"I think Joe took (slowing down Green) as a personal challenge," Huggins echoed. "He did a really, really good job."

Granted, Green's perimeter-oriented game was certainly a better match-up for the athletic but not oversized Alexander. For example, Green's ability to score in the post is not nearly as dangerous as that of other Big East players such as Notre Dame's Luke Harangody, who torched the Mountaineers for 29 points and 16 rebounds in a Jan. 3 tilt.

"He didn't really go in the post or bang me around," Alexander admitted. "I just had to run around."

Run around and stop the league's leading scorer, a player so talented that Huggins referred to him during a Saturday interview session as "can't-miss good." A player projected by many to be one and done for the Orange, and a top five NBA pick to boot. A player who, in 16 contests prior to Sunday, had been held to 10 points or less exactly one time.

Just run around. That's it, Joe?

"The scouting report was that he's a great shooter and you have to get a hand in his face," Alexander revealed. "You're right; I don't think he got an open look all game. We had a hand in his hand on every shot that he took."

More often than not, those shots clanked off the rim and into the waiting arms of a Mountaineer player. And at the end of the day, West Virginia had not only defeated Syracuse for the first time in seven seasons, but done so with relative ease.

Meanwhile, Alexander took yet another step in his development into a complete player, showing that for all of his athleticism and potential, he can also get it done on the other end of the court.

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