Perhaps all that time off recovering from a subluxed rib is precisely what Alex Ruoff needed to bust out of a shooting slump he had been in prior to the injury. In his return to the lineup, Ruoff scored 15 points, dished out eight assists and played outstanding defense to lead West Virginia to a dominating 82-46 win over visiting Miami of Ohio.
The RedHawks entered the game ranked fifth nationally in three-point field goal percentage and seventh in turnover avoidance. From the game's outset, West Virginia's defensive effort blew those rankings to bits.
WVU jumped out to a 47-17 halftime lead thanks in large part to its defense. Miami, averaging just 11.3 turnovers per game entering Saturday, committed 15 first-half turnovers which led to 26 WVU points in the opening frame.
"We weren't patient enough," said veteran Miami coach Charlie Coles. "We panicked. If you look at our stats, we were averaging 11 turnovers a game. We just fell apart (in the first half).
"Everything is predicated by how much we turn the ball over. If we don't turn the ball over, we can get five men back on defense."
Miami finished with 26 turnovers, leading to 38 points by West Virginia.
When they weren't taking the ball away from the RedHawks, the Mountaineers were keeping it from going into the basket. Miami made just five first-half field goals and shot just 26 percent from the floor in that span.
It was obvious from the start that WVU's length bothered the RedHawks, particularly on the perimeter. WVU switched on virtually every screen, which it could afford to do thanks to having several players of the same size.
"They have a great advantage," Coles said. "At least four of them are all the same size, so they can switch. They have the ideal situation – they can switch off of you and not get hurt. Ruoff can guard our post guys."
Though his scoring and facilitating on offense were certainly on display, Ruoff's defensive effort was nothing short of spectacular. The Spring Hill, Fla. native deflected numerous passes, finished with three steals and was even credited with two blocked shots in the final box score.
He also did a good job of staying with Miami leading scorer Michael Bramos, who finished with 14 points but entered the game averaging more than 20.
"If anyone would have said that he would end up being our best perimeter defender, we would have thought that whoever said that was insane," said WVU head coach Huggins. "He works hard. Alex comes out every day and has a great work ethic. He has gotten better and better and better. Guys who do that, and put time in, and work at it on a daily basis, do get better. He has gotten better."
Ruoff's efforts overshadowed a career day for junior forward Da'Sean Butler. The Newark, N.J. native finished with a career-high 28 points, giving him 1,001 for his career. Butler is the 46th player in WVU history to join the 1,000 point club.
In earlier games, West Virginia has raced out to big halftime leads only to let down its guard in the second half and finish with a margin of victory which reflected as much. Such was not the case on Saturday. Though the RedHawks did reel off an 11-0 run early in the second half to cut the deficit to just 22 points, WVU answered right back with a 9-0 run of its own.
Late in the game, the Mountaineers put their foot on the proverbial throat of Miami, with Butler getting hot from three-point land to give West Virginia the strong, dominating finish it has been seeking. WVU led by as many as 41 points late in the second half.
"We really got beat today," said Coles, whose personality is as colorful as the trademark bright red turtleneck he wears on the bench for each game. "They were so well coached. So well coached, but that's no surprise. They executed on defense and offense and we never had a chance. We missed that first layup (of the game by St. Albans native Adam Fletcher), and from there on in, that was it.
"I give (WVU) all the credit in the world – they played their butts off. They did just the things that they needed to do to beat us. And not just beat us, but pound us. I can't ever remember a team having all of the answers against us like they did. They had all of the answers. So all credit goes to Coach Huggins, his staff and his team."
West Virginia was again without the services of starting point guard Joe Mazzulla, who is out indefinitely with a growth plate fracture in his left shoulder. In addition to Mazzulla's injury, starting forward Devin Ebanks was limited with injuries to his ankle and knee. Ebanks did not start, but played 11 first-half minutes. He did not play in the second half, though he remained active by riding an exercise bike behind the WVU bench.
West Virginia returns to action at 7:00 Tuesday night when Radford visits the Coliseum.