As a freshman at West Virginia University, Alex Ruoff played alongside Kevin Pittsnogle. On Wednesday night as a senior, Ruoff moved alongside his former teammate again, hitting six 3's to tie Pittsnogle atop the WVU career list with 253.
More importantly, Ruoff's 20 points gave the Mountaineers more than enough to easily dispatch of woeful DePaul by a final of 82-63. With the win, WVU clinches a first-round bye in next week's Big East Conference Championships at Madison Square Garden. Where exactly West Virginia will be seeded remains to be seen, but it will be somewhere between sixth and eighth.
Even with Ruoff's big night, the senior wasn't alone in leading his team. Devin Ebanks continued his stellar play with his third double-double in four games, this time scoring 14 points to go along with 14 rebounds. The double-double is the ninth of the season for the freshman forward from Long Island City, N.Y.
Da'Sean Butler, still struggling from the field, finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Kevin Jones just barely missed being the third Mountaineers with double-figures in both scoring and rebounding, finishing with a career-high 13 points to go along with nine rebounds.
Point guard Truck Bryant, who struggled for virtually all of February, had his second solid outing in as many games, finishing with 12 points, six assists and three steals. The play of Bryant, Ebanks and Jones – who together comprise the team's freshmen class – is especially crucial as the Mountaineers begin to turn towards postseason play.
"I think that the freshmen are getting better," said WVU head coach Bob Huggins after the win. "Kevin Jones is playing with a lot of confidence and I think it is a shame if he is not on the all-Big East Rookie team (which will be announced on Monday). What he has contributed to this basketball team – without a question I think Devin Ebanks is in – but Kevin is very deserving. He has just gotten better and better."
WVU won despite a big night for DePaul's Will Walker, who blistered the Mountaineers from behind the arc like no other opponent has done this season. Walker, who entered the game averaging 13 points per contest, went off for a career-high 31 points, most of which came from behind the arc. The junior guard hit seven-of-12 from three-point range, five of which came in the first half as the Blue Demons tried to make a game of it on the road.
It was the second week in a row that Walker had erupted from deep. He scored 20 points in the second half against Villanova last week as DePaul nearly won their first conference game of the season.
"We showed them the second half (against the Wildcats) where he went off and scored 20 points and then (WVU's players) come out today like they don't believe us," said Huggins. "He made shots. I wasn't going to switch Alex on him because (Ruoff) is our best perimeter defender. I didn't want (DePaul standout Dar)Tucker to get going because then we would have two of them (lighting it up)."
"I thought tonight West Virginia made a real attempt to guard him and I think he did an excellent job of finding ways to get open and his release time is really quick," noted DePaul head coach Jerry Wainwright, who followed John Beilein at Richmond after the latter came to WVU. "He's really an improved player and it's obviously very tough on an outside player when nobody scores. This was certainly an exceptional effort on his part. He really played well tonight."
Unfortunately for the Blue Demons, it wasn't nearly enough. As Wainwright noted, his team got next to nothing inside as sophomore big man Mac Koshwal was held scoreless for the first time all season, missing all five of his shots from the field and grabbing just five rebounds.
The Mountaineers bullied the paint for much of the night, outscoring the Blue Demons in that area by a total of 34-14, and holding a decisive 48-30 advantage on the glass. Included in the rebounding total for West Virginia were 22 offensive rebounds, leading to 17 second-chance points.
The dominating effort inside was even more lethal when combined with Ruoff's hot night from downtown.
Though the win will do nothing for WVU's NCAA tournament resume, little needed to be done to begin with. At this point, the Mountaineers are a lock for their fourth trip to the Big Dance in five years. The only thing that remains to be determined is just how high they will be seeded. With the way that West Virginia has been playing down the stretch, odds are that the seed will be relatively high.