One question with regard to West Virginia's basketball team entering the season is who will step in to fill the scoring void left by the absence of Joe Alexander. In Saturday's exhibition against Mountain State University, Da'Sean Butler showed that he is more than capable of replacing Alexander's production. Butler scored 38-points on 11-21 shooting to lead the Mountaineers to a 98-78 win over the Cougars.
"I hope (Butler) gets 38 every game," said second-year head coach Bob Huggins. "He has played really well and it is going to take some time."
"You don't really need somebody to score that many points, and honestly everybody here is capable of scoring that many," Butler said modestly after the game. "I just made a lot of shots today. What you'll see a majority of the season is well-balanced scoring, a well-balanced team."
Butler did a lot of his damage in the first half. West Virginia jumped out to a 20-3 lead on the Cougars, with Butler and senior guard Alex Ruoff combining to hit four three-point baskets during that span.
"We came out of the gates with a deer in the headlights look and then Butler and Ruoff started to drain those 3s," said veteran MSU coach Bob Bolen. "It got ugly quick and I thought as the game went on our guys didn't quit. I thought we gave it what we had."
As Bolen said, the Cougars certainly didn't lie down despite West Virginia's early advantage. Using a frantic pace on offense that included taking a host of what would traditionally be ill-advised shots, Bolen's team was able to claw back to within 10 twice in the opening minutes of the second half.
West Virginia, which reportedly struggled in transition defense during a closed scrimmage last Saturday at the University of Virginia, was challenged in that area once again on Saturday. It seemed as though each time a Cougar player got the ball on his side of half-court, the green light to shoot was glowing.
Huggins was not pleased with his team's lack of a killer instinct after the early 20-3 lead.
"I told them afterwards and we talked about this last year – when we get up 20-3 or whatever it is, that is when you put your foot on their throat and keep them down. We ought to try to get them (down) 40-6."
Aside from Butler, West Virginia got a handful of other solid performances from veterans and newcomers alike. Ruoff finished with 18 points but struggled from the floor, shooting just five-of-14. Sophomore forward John Flowers came off the bench to score 10 points and collect seven rebounds in 19 minutes of play.
Perhaps the biggest contribution of the day – aside from Butler – came from freshman forward Kevin Jones. The Mt. Vernon, N.Y. native scored 14 points and snared seven boards in 20 minutes off the bench. Jones was a perfect 4-4 from the field in the first half, knocking down both of his three-point attempts.
"I thought Kevin, after he had a spell where he couldn't block out, I think he really did a good job at rebounding the ball for us," Huggins said. "He is such a great kid. He will do whatever we ask of him."
As a team, the Mountaineers out-rebounded MSU by a hefty 58-39 margin. Included in that total were 22 offensive rebounds which led to 13 second-chance points for West Virginia. The Mountaineers were 11-26 from three-point range, with Butler knocking down four and Ruoff three.
Unfortunately for Butler, his 38-point afternoon won't be showing up on West Virginia's official list of 30-point games as stats from exhibition games do not count towards any official totals. Aside from that, nothing could have been a better simulation for the regular season than what the Mountaineers endured against MSU.
"I don't see where it helps to bring somebody in and win by 50," Huggins said, referring to the olden days when NCAA teams could not play exhibition games against other schools. "You know Bobby's (Bolen) teams are going to be competitive and they play so hard. They have good players. It's so much better for us than playing someone who isn't near as good."
The game was also beneficial for the Cougars.
"We're not going to see a team that good and we still get to go home 3-0," said Bolen. The Cougars are a perennial power at the NAIA level, reaching the championship game three times in the past six seasons. "I don't think people left here saying Mountain State quit or folded up shop. We played hard the entire game and I think we battled and played tough."
West Virginia will tip off its regular season next Saturday night at 7:00 when Elon College visits the Coliseum.