After raising last season's Sweet 16 banner during a pregame ceremony, West Virginia took its first small step towards raising another. Da'Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff scored 19 points apiece to lead the Mountaineers (1-0) to a 92-47 win over Elon College in the season lid-lifter for both schools.
The Mountaineers outclassed the Phoenix in virtually every area imaginable, especially in the second half. WVU never trailed, and Cam Thoroughman's layup with 42 seconds remaining gave the Mountaineers their largest – and final – margin of the night.
West Virginia overcame a sluggish-at-times first half. In the opening frame, the Mountaineers lacked chemistry and patience, often taking shots early in the shot clock before West Virginia's motion offense really had a chance to set up.
"We shot to quick," said head coach Bob Huggins of the first half. "We want to score. We want to be a transition team and we want to score in transition. But when we don't score in transition, we've got to be able to rebound it, too. When you shot it that quick out of the offense, then you don't rebound that well.
"We just wanted to have more ball movement," continued the second-year head coach. "Really, what I wanted to do (at halftime) was introduce them to Alex (Ruoff) and Da'Sean (Butler). I was afraid some of those guys had never met them and I wanted them to understand that those two are pretty good players."
After trailing by 11 at the break, Elon (0-1) pulled within nine points (41-32) on a pair of Josh Bonney free throws with 17:13 remaining in the second half. That was as close as the Phoenix would get as the Mountaineers would erupt for an 18-4 run over the next 4:57, with Butler and freshman point guard Darryl "Truck" Bryant drilling back-to-back 3s to close off the stretch.
Speaking of Bryant, the rookie from Brooklyn, N.Y. was nothing short of impressive in his first official collegiate game. Coming off the bench to sub for starter Joe Mazzulla, Bryant scored 12 points, dished out six assists and did not turn the ball over once in 16 minutes of play.
"He is catching on," said Huggins. "He struggled in practice but he has gotten better and better. I thought he was better the Mountain State game (last weekend's exhibition) and actually this morning in walk through. He is starting to get an idea of what we want. He is a smart kid and that is the best he has played."
West Virginia's defense forced 24 Elon turnovers – including six steals each from Butler and Ruoff – leading to 26 points for the Mountaineers. WVU also got 33 points from its bench, led by Bryant's 12. The Phoenix bench managed just seven points.
The Mountaineers held the Phoenix to just 21 percent shooting from the floor in the second half, while shooting 63 percent themselves in the final frame. For the game, West Virginia shot 59 percent, including a blistering 10-17 effort from three-point range.
The Mountaineers never trailed in the game, and led 38-27 at halftime. West Virginia outscored the Phoenix by a hefty 54-20 advantage in the second half.
Much to Huggins's delight, the Mountaineers were also able to exert their will on the boards. WVU snared 12 offensive rebounds on the night, leading to 22 second-chance points.
"We just got overwhelmed with the athleticism and the physicality was a bit much for us," said Elon head coach Ernie Nestor, a native of Phillipi. "It's a tough way to start the season because you come in and probably play the best team you're going to play all year. They're an excellent basketball team, well coached and athletic. They have a lot of firepower and a lot of depth. It was difficult to tell when they were rotating because they have a lot of good players. They are an excellent team.
Adam Constantine scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Phoenix, while Brett James chipped in 12. Charleston native Chris Long, an Elon starter, scored seven points and dished out five assists. St. Albans native T.J. Douglas scored two points off the bench for the Phoenix.
The Mountaineers held Elon scoreless for the game's final 5:09.
West Virginia is now 59-21 against current members of the Southern Conference. WVU competed in the Southern Conference from 1950-28. The Mountaineers return to the Coliseum court on Thursday night when they host Longwood.
"If we run the offense, then I think we are going to get pretty good shots because when we do try to share it, we do pass it well," Huggins said. "We have a lot of guys who can put pressure on the rim. It is just going to take some time."