PoG: WVU - Ole Miss

While it was anything but pretty in the early going, several Mountaineers caught fire in the second half and helped their team pull away in the final 20 minutes.


Wellington Smith.

At a series of key points early in the second half, when WVU badly needed points to keep Ole Miss (which was finally having some offensive success of its own) at arm's length, the unlikeliest of heroes answered the call.

Smith is a lot of things on most nights for West Virginia. While he is one of only two seniors on the roster, his contributions are mostly unheralded.

On a roster that lacks a true post presence (at least until Deniz Kilicli returns to action), Smith is the guy that has to do the dirty work in the post -- typically against players who are much taller and longer than his 6-foot-7 frame.

But on this night, Smith stepped into the spotlight. He scored a career-high 19 points (topping his former best, 14, tallied in a game against Rutgers on Valentine's Day of 2008).

Beyond the numbers themselves, it was the way Smith scored that raised eyebrows. The forward hit five 3-pointers -- all in the second half -- to help his team forge ahead by double digits.

That forced Rebels coach Andy Kennedy's defense to extend further than it had all game, opening the interior for back-cuts and more easy scores in the post.

Smith has been a role player for most of his time in Morgantown, but for at least one night with the national television spotlight squarely on him, he stepped forward and led his team to a quality win.


  • Devin Ebanks.

    It's certainly been an up-and-down season for the sophomore, but Wednesday night's performance had to have been an early Christmas present for head coach Bob Huggins.

    Ebanks had 14 points and 13 rebounds. Perhaps more importantly, he played a game-high 33 minutes -- showing that he might be finally turning the corner from the thumb injury that has limited him since West Virginia's early-season win over Texas A&M.

    Huggins had to be pleased with the effort displayed by the forward, who displayed some fire and intensity on both ends of the floor. He had eight of WVU's 22 offensive rebounds -- twice as many as any of his teammates.

    Devin Ebanks

    That's not to say there wasn't room for improvement. Ebanks still took some ill-advised shots and made some poor decisions with passes, leading to a game-high seven turnovers.

    But intensity and effort have to come before polish can ever be applied to a player's game. Ebanks brought both of the first two items on Wednesday night. One would think Huggins would apply the latter in the coming weeks.

  • Offensive rebounding.

    Stop me if you've heard this story before: a WVU team wins a game despite some ugly play because of its tenacity in getting second chances.

    There's reason for skepticism about several areas of the Mountaineers' play at this point, but their effort on the offensive glass can not be questioned. As previously mentioned, Huggins and company collected 22 caroms on the offensive end.

    While the squad struggled to play offense with any flow in the first half, it still managed to hold a 29-26 lead at the intermission largely because it held a 17-6 advantage in offensive rebounds.

    Few games in the Big East Conference will truly be won solely by virtue of getting second chances. But what the team can do by crashing the glass is keep games close -- even while it is struggling from the field.

    That gives WVU the chance to have its shooters (even some unlikely scorers, like Smith) warm up. When that happens, the Mountaineers can score in bunches. And when they do that, because of their normal defensive effort, they can compete with any team in the nation.

  • Handling the pressure.

    Huggins said that a lengthy stay in the film room this week should have helped correct his team's issues with full-court pressure defenses. If WVU's performance against Ole Miss is any indication, he at least has his squad on the right track.

    Sure, West Virginia still turned the ball over (18 times, compared to 10 takeaways of the Rebels).

    But a lot of those were unforced errors -- mental breakdowns that are correctable. It was a rarity to see Kennedy's team go into a full-court defense and come away with the ball.

    The Mountaineers took advantage of their opportunities against the aggressive Ole Miss defense, tallying 22 assists on their 29 field goals. That means that ball was, more often than not, moving in the right direction.

    When the sloppy play and poor decision making in the half-court offense get reigned in, the turnover numbers should begin to shift more dramatically in WVU's direction.

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