Young Guns

The play of West Virginia's freshmen trio of Truck Bryant, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones was a big reason why WVU was able to overcome some adversity to defeat Duquesne on Saturday night.

Just about every time West Virginia travels to Duquesne, you can bet the farm that the Mountaineers will be in for a fight. With that in mind, look at the situation WVU found itself in before and during Saturday night's traditional December tilt between the regional rivals, who have faced each other annually since 1974.

Entering the game, West Virginia was sans the services of starting point guard Joe Mazzulla and fellow starter Alex Ruoff. Mazzulla, who originally injured his left shoulder in the win at Ole Miss, had tried to play in a loss to Davidson, but hit his ailing limb again, putting him on the shelf for the foreseeable future. Ruoff, who injured his right shoulder when colliding with a Cleveland State in West Virginia's win on December 6, dressed but did not play for the second consecutive game.

As a result, freshman point guard Darryl Bryant and sophomore forward John Flowers – starters of a combined five games in their brief careers – were inserted into the starting lineup.

Once the game began, Bryant, Flowers and Da'Sean Butler were all in foul trouble by the end of the first half. Butler, WVU's most experienced player with Ruoff being unavailable, was admittedly ineffective for much of Saturday's game.

WVU trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half, and the Dukes led by eight at the break.

Essentially, the young Mountaineers were at a crossroads. Either they could continue their lackluster play and suffer a loss that would likely hamper their NCAA tournament resume at season's end, or they could dig deep and find a way to beat the Dukes, even with the adverse circumstances which faced them.

Over the final 20 minutes, it was quite clear that West Virginia chose to do the latter. And with the game on the line in the final minutes, it was the efforts of two freshmen, Bryant and forward Devin Ebanks, which played a big role in lifting WVU to its seventh win of the season.

"We're all players," said Ebanks, a starter in all nine games this season. "Coach Huggins gave us all scholarships. He wants us to go and make plays. It's just a matter of being in the game and knowing when to take more shots and knowing when to mix it up down the stretch.

"That's what coach expects us to do. We weren't surprised at all. We've been in situations like that (in practice) and it just carried over to (Saturday)."

Ebanks finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. His third consecutive double-double marks the first time a West Virginia freshman has recorded such a streak since Maurice Robinson did so in 1975. Warren Baker holds the freshman record for consecutive double-doubles with seven in 1973.

Bryant, meanwhile, was brilliant on both ends of the court, particularly in the second half. Despite being saddled with three first-half fouls, the Brooklyn product was able to defend ably against high-scoring Duquesne guard Aaron Jackson. Though Jackson finished with 19 points, Bryant limited him to just eight shots, and more importantly, kept him from hurting the Mountaineers in transition. Jackson had scored 36 points in Duquesne's previous game at Radford.

"He's a fast point guard," Bryant said of his counterpart. "We just had to try to stop him early in transition. We know he likes going strong right, so we tried to stop him early. One thing I was trying to do was just stay on his right hand."

The rookie floor general was equally impressive on offense, finishing with a team and career-high 18 points. Included in that total was a six-of-six effort from the foul line in the final minute of the game, which is even more impressive when one considers Bryant's relative inexperience and West Virginia's well-documented struggles from the charity stripe through the season's first nine games.

The play of freshman forward Kevin Jones also stood out against the Dukes. Jones scored nine points and pulled down six boards off the bench. His three at the 15:57 mark gave WVU the lead for good.

With Ruoff and Mazzulla out and Butler limited, West Virginia simply would not have won this game without the play of the talented trio.

"It just shows how much they have learned since they first got here and how much better they have gotten since they first got here," said Butler. "It didn't surprise me because I knew what they could do. It was just a matter of them doing it out there.

"When I saw it out there, it just makes you happy to see them doing it in the game. In practice you can see it every day. They know what they are doing. It was just a matter of applying it to the game."

On Saturday night, they did precisely that. As a result, the Mountaineers came away with a hard-fought win in a place where they traditionally struggle.

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