With the absence of two veterans and the limited production of a third, West Virginia's youngest players did what they had to do – fill the void. Darryl "Truck" Bryant scored 18 points and Devin Ebanks scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to lift visiting WVU over pesky Duquesne by a final of 68-63 here on Saturday night.
The Mountaineers struggled through a mistake-plagued first half, turning the ball over 10 times, leading to 11 Duquesne points. Foul trouble also haunted West Virginia in the opening 20 minutes. Bryant, starting in place of the injured Joe Mazzulla, was whistled for three first-half fouls. Starters John Flowers, Da'Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks each were called for two.
The Mountaineers also played with a noticeable lack of aggressiveness, particularly against Duquesne's full-court pressure defense. When WVU did break mid-court, it wasn't much better, as it limped to an 11-31 shooting performance including an ice-cold 1-11 from downtown.
WVU's first-half mistakes allowed the Dukes to race out to a commanding lead. Duquesne, losers of five straight against the Mountaineers, build an advantage as large as 12 points at the 1:45 mark of the first half.
Shortly thereafter, though, the Mountaineers began to chip away ever so slightly at the Dukes. Seldom-used reserve guard Josh Sowards hit a 3 to cut Duquesne's lead to nine. Trailing by 10 moments later, Wellington Smith had just enough time to lay home a bucket at the horn to give WVU small signs of life heading into the locker room.
Of course once they got to the locker room, head coach Bob Huggins brought plenty of life of his own.
"We were so tentative," Huggins said of his team's first-half performance. "We spent two days talking about not throwing the ball backwards and that's all we did (in the first half) – throw the ball backwards. You've got to attack pressure. When your guards are driving as much as their guards were driving, you should – when you rebound it – be able to get out in transition. We were just so tentative.
"We played like we were scared," he concluded. "We were not the aggressor."
From the outset of the second half, the Mountaineers were clearly the aggressor. West Virginia began the second half on a 14-0 run, with Kevin Jones's three-point basket at the 15:57 mark giving the Mountaineers the lead for good.
Defensively, WVU held the Dukes scoreless for the first 7:10 of the second half, and held Duquesne without a field goal for nearly 10 total minutes combined between the end of the first half and beginning of the second.
Holding the Dukes scoreless not only allowed the Mountaineers to increasingly build their lead, but kept Duquesne from getting into the very same press which gave West Virginia fits for virtually the entire first half.
"I thought at the beginning of the second half, everything was better," Huggins said. "Our offense was better because we cut harder. We screened, we curled, we stepped back to the ball. We were stepping into shots."
"When we can't score and we can't press, defensively because we are smaller we just aren't as effective," said Duquesne head coach Ron Everhart, a native of Fairmont. "Once we scored and got back into our press, we sort of scratched and clawed and got back into it."
When Duquesne did settle down offensively, the results were still not what they were looking for. The Dukes were just 11-29 from the field in the final frame, which was magnified even more when WVU began to make its run. It wasn't as though Duquesne didn't have open looks. On the contrary, they had plenty. The problem was they just didn't make many.
"I thought we had some real good looks in the second half," said Everhart. "I thought our kids played extremely hard.
"We missed some shots that we've been making, which is obviously frustrating. You just have to give West Virginia's kids credit. They executed down the stretch."
Again, West Virginia was dominant on the glass. WVU had a season-high 26 offensive rebounds, and though they resulted in just 16 second-chance points, keeping possessions alive and running clock was just as critical to WVU's success as scoring once the Mountaineers regained the lead.
Ebanks's double-double was his third in a row. John Flowers scored just five points, but finished with 10 rebounds. Wellington Smith had a productive all-around game with 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.
And down the stretch, with Duquesne still within two possessions, the Mountaineers were able to knock down several clutch foul shots. WVU was eight-of-nine from the foul line in the final minute, nailing down its second road victory in as many tries.
Starting point guard Joe Mazzulla did not dress, sitting at the end of the WVU bench in a pair of team-issued sweats for the duration of the action. Senior off guard Alex Ruoff did dress, but did not play, even when the Mountaineer bench became frighteningly-short near the end of the first half due to foul trouble. Both players are nursing shoulder injuries, but could be healthy by the time West Virginia hosts Miami of Ohio next Saturday.