PoG: WVU - Loyola

While the West Virginia men's basketball team sputtered out of the gates, some of the Mountaineers did enough to ultimately power past Loyola University of Maryland on Sunday afternoon at the WVU Coliseum.

PLAYER OF THE GAME:

Dan Jennings. After struggling mightily in the preseason (both in practice and WVU's exhibition game against Mountain State), the freshman forward provided a much-needed spark off the bench to what had been a lethargic Mountaineer team to that point.

His statistical line was impressive enough, as Jennings had nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds -- just missing out on a double-double in his first collegiate game. But it was the way Jennings made things happen that was most significant.

Just days after head coach Bob Huggins said the forward was playing largely listless basketball in practice -- the result of having to "think too much" about his many assignments, instead of just being able to play -- the forward turned in a performance that was loaded with effort, even if lacking in polish.

Jennings made the tough plays when his team needed him too, absorbing more than his share of physical abuse on multiple plays while still making baskets inside or pulling down pivotal rebounds.

After a of follow-up dunk off one of the many shots his teammates missed in the first half, Jennings let out a primal yell in triumph -- one of the first signs of emotion on the day from a West Virginia team that had otherwise been largely listless.

In the process, Jennings helped to wake his teammates up, perhaps indirectly keying the quick second half start that ended the threat posed by Loyola after the game was tied at 31-31 at the half.



Kevin Jones

NET BURNERS:

  • Kevin Jones. The forward started for the first time in his career, as fellow sophomore Devin Ebanks did not play as he dealt with "some personal issues," according to Huggins.

    The head coach said after Jones' 14-point, seven rebound performance that the player known more simply by his initials -- KJ -- was one of the most consistent performers on the WVU team.

    Jones did the type of things against the Greyhounds that he has done throughout the spot work he has received in his short career as a Mountaineer. He made tough rebounds around the basket and scored plenty of points by cleaning up other players' "garbage" around the goal.

    In a game that was ugly for WVU in the early going, those sorts of points were all the more important to score. It was the effort of players like Jones at getting offensive rebounds (he had a game-high six offensive boards) that allowed the Mountaineers to score 27 second-chance points.

  • Da'Sean Butler. While a case could be made that the senior forward deserved our nod as the player of the game, Jennings just edged him out.

    Still, Butler was a huge key to keeping West Virginia close in the first half -- and in helping it pull away quickly in the final 20 minutes. He scored a game-high 26 points and added seven rebounds, which tied him with Jones for second-best on the team.

    When Huggins had to go to an unconventional lineup that featured Jennings, Jones, Jonnie West and John Flowers, it was Butler who took over the mantle of running the point. While that made him less of a threat offensively, it did help the team control the ball effectively despite the odd combination of players.

    As a result, Butler tied with starting point guard Truck Bryant with five assists. And on a night when many Mountaineers struggled to hit the outside shot, Butler had the good sense to step inside the arc. Of his 11 made field goals, nine came from 2-point range.

  • Staying confident as shooters. Butler's performance from short range almost runs counter to this point, but there is something to be said of the need for shooters to just keep shooting until the ball starts going in the net.

    While WVU sputtered to a 2-of-17 performance from long range in the first half, that did not dissuade players from continuing to try to make the big shot.

    That confidence showed early in the second half, as a pair of 3-pointers from Bryant and another from Wellington Smith keyed the 11-0 run that finally gave the Mountaineers some breathing room.

    WVU was a much more effective 7-of-12 from long distance in the final 20 minutes. It was that 3-point attack that ultimately proved too much for Loyola to overcome.

    The fact that the players remained confident enough to take those shots despite their early struggles speaks volumes to the coaching ability of Huggins, who said that the poor performance in the first half was the result of questionable shot selection.


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