The Mountaineers played their worst game of the season on both ends, according to head coach Bob Huggins – not the ideal way to begin a stretch of four road games in the next six outings. But even with leading scorer Alex Ruoff missing nine of 10 shots and leading rebounder Joe Alexander pulling a groin, West Virginia was able to use Da'Sean Butler's 19 points and Alexander's 15 to win its 15th straight home game.
"We made it rough because we didn't make any shots," Huggins said. "We didn't guard the ball. I didn't think our preparation was as good as it should have been."
The Mountaineers, which won their first eight home games by an average of more than 32 points, actually trailed 37-36 with 15:45 left. But Butler finally jumpstarted a run to take the lead for good at 55-43 with less than eight minutes remaining. He hit a 3-pointer, then added a later lay-in during the 19-6 push. Alexander scored four points during the run, then continued to pace West Virginia down the stretch with timely baskets and rebounding. He was called for a technical with eight minutes left after trying to dunk over a player, who undercut him and knocked him to the floor. It was one of several physical altercations during the game.
"All games in the Big East are rough," said St. John's head coach Norm Roberts, who has won just five road games in his four years. "I think our team played with the same type of physicality. After watching their game against Marquette, that was one of the most physical games I've seen in a long time. We let our players know it was physical. I thought we (matched) that tonight."
St. John's got within six at 64-58 in the final 90 seconds before missing two inside shots. Butler hit a free throw and a lay-in to put West Virginia ahead 68-58 entering the final minute. He also tallied a career-high tying nine rebounds. John Flowers came off the bench to score 10 points, including a pair of key threes late, and Darris Nichols added 10 points. Ruoff had his worst shooting game of the season but finished with a career-high nine assists. He and St. John's guard Malik Boothe got into an argument after Boothe slapped at Ruoff, who was holding the ball as time expired. They shook hands, but again verbally jousted in the team postgame lines. Three St. John's players, Boothe excluded, bumped Ruoff as he came off the floor. Ruoff did not respond to the childish antics, the latest of several less-than-desirable SJU traits, including the inability to play solid team basketball and unreasonable physicality to make up for lack of talent, that marred the game.
"There were three seconds left and I'm holding the ball and I start to shake his hand and he pokes at the ball and another guy comes up and pokes me in the stomach," Ruoff said. "It was uncalled for. I lost my cool and tossed the ball toward him. They were doing all of the talking, a bunch of threats and stuff."
Larry Wright scored 15 points off the bench for St. John's. Anthony Mason, Jr. scored 14 and Eugene Lawrence added nine points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
West Virginia (13-4, 3-2 Big East) made a 13-2 run to take a 26-21 lead with 4:18 left in the first half before St. John's tied the game at 29 at the break. Nichols hit a 3-pointer and a jumper during the stretch and Butler and Wellington Smith also drilled threes. That came on the heels of a five-of-18 start from the field that led to the team's second-worst first half of shooting this season.
"There are always going to be games where you don't shoot well," Huggins said. "But there is no excuse for not rebounding and playing defense. We are going to bring in some people next year that will, and when these guys are wondering why they are sitting, we are going to tell them to not stand around with the ball."
The teams then traded leads six times in as many minutes to open the second half before West Virginia assumed control with the 19-6 run to win its 15th in a row at home. The Mountaineers have won 39 of their last 42 at home. St. John's (7-9, 1-4) played the Mountaineers closer than any losing team this season.
West Virginia's Fiesta Bowl champion football team was honored at halftime by bowl representatives. The Mountaineers beat Oklahoma 48-28 on Jan. 2 under then-interim head coach Bill Stewart. Stewart, Fiesta Bowl rep Dick Stemple, a Webster Springs, W.Va. native, and play-by-play announcer Tony Caridi spoke. Stemple congratulated WVU for "overcoming adversity" and Stewart reiterated that he coached at the best program in the best "state in the union" with the finest student body and the best staff in the nation. Cheers of ‘Stew, Stew' could be heard. The team originally received a standing ovation when it took its seat during warm-ups in section 60 adjacent to the students in the upper deck. Backup quarterback Jarrett Brown was dressed in his basketball shorts and warm-up jersey. He joined the team after the start of the second semester.