Resurgence on the Road

Early in Wednesday night's contest, it looked like the a second-consecutive opponent of No. 9 WVU would show why the Mountaineers are ranked near the bottom of the Big East Conference in field goal percentage defense. By game's end, that had changed drastically.

West Virginia's defense tightened considerably in the second half, after allowing USF to score 18 of its first 23 points in the paint and hit 10 of its first 14 field goal attempts.

The result was a big run late in the first half that spanned into the final period, allowing the Mountaineers to win going away, 69-50, in a game that had briefly looked like it might be equally ugly in the other direction.

South Florida came out of the gates almost as quickly as Notre Dame had in WVU's previous game. For much of the opening half, it was the home-standing Bulls holding a big lead.

That advantage swelled to as many as 11 points, when Mike Mercer scored on a layup with 7:52 left in the first half, giving his team a 23-12 cushion.

Bob Huggins then beckoned his team to the bench, and instead of berating the players, asked them a simple question.

"I called timeout," Huggins recalled, "and I said, "Do we just want to give it to them and go down 20 so we can play then? Just tell me what the number is before we decide we're going to play.'" The Mountaineers (13-2, 4-1) decided that an 11 point deficit was enough, going on a 12-0 run to claim a 24-23 lead.

This game recap presented by The Book Exchange

Keying that surge was the play of point guard Truck Bryant, who scored nine of those 12 points, including hit a pair of 3-point field goals (the only WVU trifectas on 11 attempts from long range in the first half).

"I thought Truck, after not starting well, came back and played pretty well for us," Huggins said of his starting point guard, who had 15 points and three assists at game's end. The visitors held a tenuous 32-30 edge at the half, but had momentum on their side.

That carried over after the intermission, as Devin Ebanks, who had been quiet in both the loss to the Irish and the first half of Wednesday night's game, finally made his presence felt.

The sophomore forward scored eight of his team's first 10 points in the second half, keying another big Mountaineer run that would put South Florida out of reach quickly.

"I've been talking to him about just doing what he does," said Huggins of the resurgent performance from the Long Island City, N.Y., native. "He's really good at moving without the ball and he's good at attacking the rim. He's not a 3-point shooter and he's not a guy that can play laterally off the bounce. He's got to get angles. He's so long, if he gets to the basket he can put it on the rim."

"I thought Devin got back to the way Devin played the end of last year. That was the Devin I think everybody saw the end of last year and everybody loved."

West Virginia outscored the Bulls 19-4 to start the period, building a lead of 51-34 on a Bryant layup. Its opponent would fail to draw within fewer than 14 points the rest of the way.

That was largely the result of tenacious defense, which had been absent in the first half. The Bulls scored only 10 points in the first 14:00 of the second half, and had only five field goals in the final 20 minutes of the game.

Beyond the play of Dominique Jones, who had 28 points, USF struggled late in the game offensively. Three other starters who had six points each tied as the second-leading scorers for head coach Stan Heath's squad.

After Jarrid Famous (one member of the trio who scored six points each) hit a layup at 16:12 to go, the Bulls would not have another field goal until Jones scored a layup with 8:41 remaining.

All told, the Heath and company would score only 20 points in the second half -- a complete reversal from the early part of the game, when South Florida was hitting a staggering 75 percent of its shots.

"I was as frustrated as I've been in a long time," Huggins said. "We talked for two days about how we're going to gang up on Dominique Jones, and he gets 19 in the first half. We just fell asleep."

But fortunately for the third-year coach, his team woke up in time to pull away for its fourth Big East Conference win. Ebanks led his team with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Da'Sean Butler had 12 points and nine rebounds despite not scoring on a 3-point field goal or a free throw.

For the Bulls (10-6, 0-4) it was the Dominique Jones show, as his 27 points and seven rebounds were both team-highs.

USF was an abysmal 1-of-17 (5.9 percent) from 3-point range and watched its overall field goal percentage plummet from the high 70s early on down to 32.7 percent (17-of-52) by the time it was all over.

Huggins may want to bottle his team's second half performance from Wednesday, as it faces a tough test on Saturday at the WVU Coliseum when No. 5 Syracuse comes to Morgantown.

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