Back on Track (in Black)

Players and coaches professed that No. 8 WVU knew it had plenty to work on following an embarrassing loss at Purdue on New Year's Day. If Wednesday night's conquest of Rutgers was any indication, they weren't just saying the right things.

The Mountaineers (12-1, 3-0) built a double-digit lead in the first eight minutes of the contest and never let the Knights any closer from that point forward, pulling away for a 86-52 blowout victory at the WVU Coliseum.

The home squad took advantage of torrid shooting to bring Rutgers out of the 2-3 zone it played early in the contest. With just over 9:00 remaining in the opening half, West Virginia was hitting better than 65 percent of its field goals. At the intermission, that rate of success had curbed to a "mere" 55.6 percent.

It was a balanced attack that paced head coach Bob Huggins' squad. Four of the team's starters had at least nine points at the intermission -- and none had more than 11.

By game's end, all but two of the 13 players that saw action in WVU's new black uniforms (players ran out on the traditional blue and gold carpet to the tune of AC/DC's "Back in Black") had scored.

Among the players pacing the offensive effort was point guard Truck Bryant, who started for the first time since the Mountaineers eked out a last-second 80-78 win at Cleveland State on Dec. 19.

Huggins went from starting a lineup of five forwards -- and hoping for any quality minutes from his point guards -- to having both Bryant and junior Joe Mazzulla play perhaps their best games of the season.

Bryant had 15 points on an efficient 5-of-6 shooting, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range. He added two assists, two steals and two rebounds in only 20 minutes of action, as the sophomore continues to work himself back to full health after sustaining a left hamstring injury that has hampered him in recent weeks.

"The honest to God reason I started him was because he deserved to," said Huggins of Bryant.

"I wouldn't say we've got to have him, but it helps. I started him because he played the best in practice. Truck had a very good week of practice. He came in and was receptive to trying to get better and help our team. He just played well."

That led to one of the better all-around offensive games WVU has had during Huggins' tenure. The Mountaineers crossed the 70-point plateau (the third-year coach's West Virginia teams are now 50-4 when scoring at least 70 in a game) with 9:08 remaining.

"I thought we did a much better job of getting in offense today," Huggins said. "We had more patience than what we've had. It's kind of like the old days of Woody Hayes football. They had the ball the whole time. That's what happened to us. We haven't had a lot of patience offensively and we've been careless with it."

"I thought today, we had so much better patience. Then you turn around and score 86 points and almost shoot 50 percent from the field. And then the game went faster -- TV had to fill (time) because we weren't throwing it out of bounds and stopping the clock and doing all those things."

Mazzulla's contribution was a bit quieter than that of Bryant, but equally solid.

The junior, who continues to suffer considerable pain from a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery from a year ago, had four points, five assists, two steals and a rebound in 15 minutes of play.

This game recap presented by The Book Exchange

Defensive intensity keyed the Mountaineers' victory, as the home squad harassed RU into 20 turnovers. West Virginia took advantage, holding a 27-6 lead in points off turnovers.

That hustle was once again evident on the offensive glass as well, where Huggins and company collected 19 extra opportunities, converting them into a 20-7 edge in second-chance points.

Energy was one thing the team's head coach said he believed was lacking in his squad's 77-62 loss at the then-No. 4 Boilermakers.

"I keep looking at the Purdue tape and we just didn't have any bounce," Huggins said.

"They took Saturday off. They had Friday night and Saturday off. Heck, they had the second half of the Purdue game off," he joked.

"I cut an hour out of practice (Tuesday), and I never do that."

The team's fresher legs showed in the second half of Wednesday night's contest, when the Mountaineers' defensive intensity stayed high despite the big lead and having 20 minutes of basketball already in the books.

The Scarlet Knights (9-5, 0-2) may have had thoughts of a second half comeback coming out of the locker room, as they stayed within 17 points at the intermission.

But Huggins and company quickly put such notions to rest, going on an 18-2 run to start the final period. Dalton Pepper's second straight 3-pointer ended the spurt, giving the home team a 65-32 lead with 14:33 remaining.

Reserves played almost exclusively down the stretch, as Rutgers (a team which trailed by only four points with 2:00 remaining in a game at then-No. 9 North Carolina) could not draw within fewer than 27 points of the Mountaineers from that point forward.

Kevin Jones led WVU with 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field. The forward added eight rebounds and three assists.

Da'Sean Butler added 15 more, while Devin Ebanks had 11 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals.

For Rutgers, Jonathan Mitchell had 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. The Knights' typical top scorer, Mike Rosario, had 11 points, but made only four of his 14 attempts from the field.


  • If familiarity truly breeds contempt, then there was plenty of reason for players on both sides to dislike each other.

    Of the ten players on the floor for the opening tip-off, nine were from New York or New Jersey. Only RU center Hamady Ndiaye, a native of Dakar, Senegal, hails from somewhere beyond the borders of the pair of northeastern states.

  • Cam Thoroughman provided the most unexpected highlight of the night when he stole the ball from RU's Dane Miller, corralled it just enough to keep control, dribbled down the floor and scored a basket that was officially counted as a dunk.

    After absorbing contact from Miller, the reserve forward's slam attempt had failed to fully clear the cylinder. Still, it took a bounce off the rim and fell through, to the delight of the Coliseum crowd.

    After a subsequent media timeout, Thoroughman calmly sank the ensuing free throw, putting his team up 20-7 with 11:36 to go in the first half.

  • After the game, Huggins was asked why he had opted to break out the team's new black uniforms in a game that lacked significant "buzz" (students still were not back in town from winter break, the game was not a national telecast and RU was hardly one of the marquee opponents left on the Mountaineers' schedule).

    The coach, who famously donned a mustard yellow suit for a game against Cincinnati during his first season (only to watch the Bearcats thoroughly dominate WVU), had a quick answer.

    "Because if I would have broke them out in a game we would have lost, we would have never worn them again," Huggins quipped.

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