WVU, making its first appearance of the season in Charleston, held the visitors to just three- two-point field goals in the opening half, but the Bulldogs made five more shots from behind the arc. Three of those came after the Mountaineers had forged an early 23-7 lead, and seemingly taken control of the game. However, a pair bombs from Zach Urbanus and another from Cameron Wells cut WVU's lead to 29-16, and an 8-1 run to end the first half left The Citadel in striking range at 33-24.
West Virginia, while defending everyone but guard Cameron Wells inside the three-point line, was often late on closing out defensively against the patient Bulldogs, who milked the shot clock and shortened the game.
"That was smart," WVU head coach Bob Huggins noted afterward. "They are well-coached. They try to spread you, and they do a great job back cutting."
Doing most of the damage from the outside were Urbanus (4-6) and seven-foot center Joe Wolfinger (who put on his best Kevin Pittsnogle impression by canning three of five from long range). In all, The Citadel made nine of its 16 attempts from three-point land, and scored just ten baskets from inside the arc. Other than point guard Cameron Wells (who had seven of the Bulldog's ten two-pointers) the visitors simply didn't go inside much. As a result, they attempted just four free throws, all in the first half, making three.
The Mountaineers, on the other hand, had a night of fits and starts offensively. After zooming out to the early lead, WVU went cold, missing several good shots and opportunities to put the game away. However, the scrappy Bulldogs stuck to their game plan, clogged the lane and dared the Mountaineers to beat them from the perimeter. And while the home team nearly matched the visitors in threes, making eight, there were enough missed shots and failed possessions to keep the Bulldogs in the contest.
WVU's opening sequence of the second half was a microcosm of the night. After a missed lay-up by Truck Bryant, Kevin Jones snared the rebound and fired it to an open Casey Mitchell, who promptly missed a three-pointer. But Wellington Smith saved the sequence by snaring that rebound and soaring down the lane for a dunk that pushed WVU's lead back to 11. The advantage yo-yoed between 11 and 14 for the next eight minutes before an 8-0 West Virginia run pushed the lead out to 19 at the 10:51 mark. While The Citadel continued to battle, that sequence pretty much sewed up the contest, as the Bulldogs were only able to get as close as 14 points the rest of the way.
The subplots of the contest were probably as interesting as the game, which played out at a slow pace. A day after saying that Ebanks would not play in the game, the sophomore made an appearance in pregame warmups. While he dressed, he did not play in the contest, and occupied a seat on the end of the WVU bench for the entire game. Huggins said he made the decision earlier in the day to allow him back on the bench, but would not commit to any plans to play him.
"The reality is, he hasn't practiced," Huggins noted.
Huggins also explained his decision to not discuss the reasons for Ebanks' absence.
If this was your kid, you wouldn't want it out there, because it's none of anyone's business," Huggins said bluntly after the game. "This b.s. about I owe [an explanation], I don't owe that to season ticket holders or to the Dominion Post, or anyone. Everyone has all those opinions about what I should do, but that changes dramatically when it's your son. And I have always tried to treat them like sons."
Although Ebanks was not available for interviews after the game, he did appear relaxed, and smiled and laughed several times during the course of the contest.
Also notable was the return of Joe Mazzulla, who played for the first time in nearly a year. Mazzulla's last time on the court was a first-half appearance against Davidson on Dec. 9. and the relief on his face after the game was clear to see.
"I felt like a caged tiger," said Mazzulla, who dished out six assists while scoring two points and adding two rebounds in 15 minutes of action. "It has been a long time."
Mazzulla's output was complemented by that of another sub, John Flowers, who tossed in 13 points while delivering an energetic performance off the bench. Kevin Jones had 11 points and eight rebounds, while Casey Mitchell and Truck Bryant each contributed ten points. Wellington Smith tied Jones with eight rebounds of his own.
The Citadel was led by Well's 19 points. Urbanus had 12 while Wolfinger added 11. The Bulldogs attempted just 41 shots in the contest.
With the win, WVU, now 2-0, embarks on a long journey. After busing to Cincinnati, the Mountaineers will take a morning flight to Los Angeles on Wednesday, and have just the rest of the day to get acclimated before taking on Long Beach State at 11:00 a.m. Pacific time (2:00 P.M. Eastern) on Thursday.