Alex Ruoff and Wellington Smith added 14 points apiece for West Virginia, which halted a streak in which it had lost three of four games to remain in NCAA Tournament contention. Rutgers (10-15, 2-11 Big East), meanwhile, is threatening to miss the Big East Tournament for a third consecutive season after losing for the 11th time in 13 games. The Knights – the worst shooting and scoring team in the Big East – never found an offensive flow, being forced into 17 turnovers that led to a season-best 29 points for West Virginia.
"I thought we were more active around the ball," WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. "We got into lanes and limited what they wanted to do."
The Mountaineers (17-7, 6-5) had just four turnovers, their fewest since 2005, and managed a 42-27 lead at the half. Darris Nichols and Ruoff made consecutive 3-pointers to spur a 12-4 run midway through the opening period. The treys came between Jamie Smalligan's two first-half threes, matching his most in any single half this season. The teams then played evenly until a West Virginia closed with eight of the final 10 points with four different players scoring. Smalligan finished with 10 points, three off his career high, and could have tied it but passed up a late open shot from behind the arc.
"I know how hard Jamie has worked and how much better he has gotten," Huggins said. "We had gotten the ball to Darris so often on a (screen play) that we knew they would drop. They dropped down and Jamie's man doubled teamed Darris and he did a good job of kicking the ball back out. Jamie is shooting better. Some games, it is really hard for him because of match-ups. But he is working hard."
West Virginia, largely off its first half lead, was ahead 61-42 halfway through the second half when Rutgers finally made a run. The Knights scored nine straight points to get within 10 at 61-51 before their next two possessions failed to generate points. The Mountaineers took advantage to extend the lead to 65-51 with five minutes to play and Rutgers never got closer than a dozen again.
Four Rutgers players scored 10 points and two had nine in the most balanced effort of the season. Alexander tallied 10 rebounds for a double-double, helping WVU beat the Knights for the 25th time in 30 games in Morgantown. Smith also had eight rebounds to go with his career high in points in WVU's 40th home win in three years.
"Everybody was working hard and playing as hard as they can," said Butler, who had 12 points. "We hustled. Sometimes things did not always work out, but we are working."
The game was marred by two airballed free throws, a lane violation, a given timeout that was never called and a technical on Rutgers head coach Fred Hill after he kicked the scoring table in frustration with just minutes to play. The technical triggered 10 West Virginia points in the next 12 scored to effectively seal the game at 75-55 with more than two minutes left.
Other than executing during the runs, the Mountaineers largely played down to Rutgers early, creating the sloppiest opening 20 minutes involving both teams at the Coliseum this year. West Virginia failed to get through screens defensively, and Rutgers neither passed well nor held onto the ball. The teams often got misses from close range, only to allow foes to grab rebounds for multiple looks. The game, which alternated between up-and-down runs and base half court offense, hit a low point when Rutgers' Byron Joynes airballed a foul shot before Smalligan was whistled for a lane violation on his second free throw, which also badly missed. Joynes was off on his third as well, but WVU allowed an offensive rebound. Less than two minutes later, the Mountaineers gave up an easy basket off an inbounds play for the second time in as many games.
The attendance was announced at 7,826, among the smallest Big East crowds this year.
"We're about to go on a run and it's going to be fun, so let's get (fans) in here," Huggins said. "Let's get them in here."
Note: Nichols tied the school record for consecutive games played at 128. Those represent every contest of his collegiate career.