The No. 8 Mountaineers forced 22 turnovers and had four players in double figures in cruising to an 85-62 win here Thursday in the opening round of the 76 Classic. Casey Mitchell scored a career-high 18 points – including a trio of threes in the opening minutes to jumpstart the rout – and Da'Sean Butler and Kevin Jones added 13 and 10 points, respectively. Johnnie West came off the bench for a career-high 11 points.
Mitchell, a transfer in his first WVU season, made three three-pointers from the right corner in the initial five minutes as the Mountaineers surged to a 16-6 edge. The junior routinely popped open along the baseline following a series of cuts and screens, and often managed to free himself in transition for looks.
"Coming in I was taking bad shots," said Mitchell, who had missed 11 of 18 field goals entering the game. "I took good shots tonight and just tried to focus."
West Virginia ripped open the game with 12 consecutive points for a 37-16 lead with three minutes before the break. The Mountaineers showcased their strength on each end, turning LBSU over three times during the push and scoring from inside and out. Jones sandwiched a Butler three-pointer and five Joe Mazzulla points with a pair of interior lay-ins during the run. Long Beach got within 40-24 at the half before West Virginia essentially sealed the game with nine straight points – including a Jones dunk off a steal – to go ahead 52-29 with 16:40 left. The 49ers never got closer than 18 points afterward in its worst loss in 23 games.
"You go onto a game like that with a small margin of error to win," said Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson, whose team gave up 28 points on takeaways. "They came out and hit their first three threes and we didn't do a good job of dictating anything. It's hard to claw back against a team like that. They exposed stuff for us. You can't simulate that kind of pressure in practice."
Long Beach's 22 turnovers matched its most in more than a season (22 at Oregon, 2008). The 49ers had success early at dumping the ball inside before WVU responded with increased on-ball pressure after the dribble and fronting the interior players. That led to a series of LBSU turnovers and corresponding run-outs for easy baskets. On the inside, Jones' length and prowess proved nearly unstoppable for Long Beach, which allowed 28 points in the paint. The forward added nine rebounds and five assists with two steals. Butler wasn't as prolific on the glass with two boards, none offensive, but did man the point guard slot for several minutes with Truck Bryant and Mazzulla in foul trouble.
The depth, pressure and length compounded issues with the shorter 49er bench. Long Beach State was without Arturas Lazdauskas, a 6-7 senior who broke his hand two games prior. It filled minutes with Lin Chang, but the 6-9 sophomore was routinely out of position on the perimeter after following guards away from the basket.
Long Beach's Stephan Gilling and Greg Plater each finished with a team-high 14 points. T.J. Robinson added 10. Big West Freshman of the Year and First-Team pick Larry Anderson missed all three of his shots from the field and had just five points against eight turnovers in the worse game of his college career.
"I haven't had a game like that since I got here," Anderson said. "They got into me and I should have had some five-second calls. I threw it to the other team. It was tough."
West Virginia's 12 threes tied for second-most during the Huggins era (15, Prairie View, 2007-08). The Mountaineers also had a 33-25 edge in rebounding, including 23 on the offensive end. WVU, now 208-140 all-time in tournament play, will face the winner of No. 22 Clemson or Texas A&M in the second round. Tip-off Friday is at 2:30 p.m. EST.
Note: Joe Mazzulla was forced to come off three consecutive screens on an out-of-bounds play shortly after he entered at the 12:40 mark of the first half. The third screen banged Mazzulla's shoulder especially hard, and the guard winced in pain. He continued to play, and is expected to go in the Classic's second round.