Alex Ruoff and the Mountaineers found the perfect remedy for their recent offensive struggles – Providence. Ruoff canned six 3s and scored a game-high 24 points as West Virginia snapped a two-game losing streak with a dominating 86-59 frying of the Friars inside the WVU Coliseum.
As a team, WVU canned 11-25 from three-point range, part of a larger 32-64 effort overall from the field. In contrast, the Friars – fresh off a 17-40 performance from downtown in a narrow loss to Villanova – hit just three of their 18 three-point attempts, and shot just 37 percent overall for the game. The Mountaineers entered the game leading the Big East in three-point field goal percentage defense, a ranking which will only stand more firm after Saturday's performance.
"We really tried hard to take them out of what they wanted to do and they ended up ball screening," explained WVU head coach Bob Huggins, who is now a perfect 4-0 against Providence in his two years at West Virginia. "It's really hard to take threes off a ball screen."
"I am not surprised at the pressure they put on us," said PC head coach Keno Davis. "I think that I had seen enough tape that I had enough understanding of Coach Huggins's teams and how they play and how aggressive and tough-nosed they are."
Defensively, the effort was nothing new for West Virginia, which more or less stays in most games it plays because of the tough, in-your-face style of defense which Huggins demands. Offensively, though, the Mountaineers have struggled with missed shots, long field-goal droughts and an overall lack of scoring production outside of Da'Sean Butler since the middle of January.
Such was not the case on Saturday against PC. WVU, particularly reserve forwards Kevin Jones and John Flowers, was able to find a soft spot in the middle of Providence's 1-2-2 matchup zone. The duo combined for 13 points off the bench, most of which came from open mid-range jump shots in the center of the zone. With Ruoff hitting from the outside, there was simply no way for the Friars to account for everything WVU was able to get. Even with Butler, who had scored at least 20 points in six straight games entering Saturday, struggling from the field, West Virginia's offensive balance was just too much for PC to overcome.
"I thought everybody we put in the game played well," said Huggins. "Cam (Thoroughman) came in and made some big plays for us. John Flowers came in and was really active and Kevin Jones came off the bench. That's as good of a team effort as we have had in awhile. When we score 86 points, we're going to win."
Especially when that offensive explosion is teamed up with one of the best defensive performances in weeks by the Mountaineers. Providence turned the ball over 19 times, which led to 29 points on the other end for WVU. Huggins's squad was also able to pick up 10 points in transition, with Devin Ebanks doing most of the damage in that category. Ebanks finished with 13 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Butler made seven of his 18 shot attempts, including three-of-11 from three-point range on his way to 17 points. He also grabbed nine rebounds. Truck Bryant had one of his best Big East games with 10 points and two assists in 22 minutes.
The big story for West Virginia, though, was Ruoff. Huggins hopes that his lone senior is able to springboard Saturday's standout effort into several as the Mountaineers hit the home stretch of Big East play looking to secure a bid to the NCAA tournament.
"He has struggled," Huggins admitted. "He hasn't made shots in practice and you have to give the kid a whole lot of credit. He stays after practice and really works at it. I was sitting over there today and it just didn't look like he had his hand underneath the ball. With guys like him, you don't want to screw with them very much. You just can't make shots if your hand isn't under the ball and he was missing shots by not getting it up."
The slight mechanical tweak was all Ruoff needed, and he responded by lifting the Mountaineers in what was certainly a must-win game for tournament purposes.