The West Virginia Mountaineers took place in the first game of the ESPN 24-hour basketball tip-off marathon tonight. Their opponent: the #21 Gonzaga Bulldogs. This is the same team that embarrassed the Mountaineers in the second round (round of 64) of the 2012 NCAA Tournament, 77-54.
The 2012-13 Mountaineers look far different than last year’s squad. Starting line-up for this morning’s game was Juwan Staten, Jabari Hinds, and Matt Humphrey at the guard spots. Deniz Kilicli and Aaric Murray started in the front court for the Mountaineers. For those keeping score at home, that makes three transfer player in Coach Huggins starting line-up.
It was expected that West Virginia would most likely take a loss to a Gonzaga team that has only lost at home 7 times in the past 7 seasons. But I don’t think anyone would have predicted the absolute shellacking that Coach Huggins team took in The Kennel this morning. West Virginia was dominated by a final score of 84-50.
Early on, the Mountaineers appeared to be out of sync. WVU collected a quick 6 team fouls in the first 4:10 of the game. The foul trouble was only compounded by the Mountaineers poor shooting. This deadly combination allowed the Bulldogs to jump out to an early 6-2 lead.
Fortunately for the Mountaineers, Gonzaga also started off with cold shooting, starting just 1-11 from the field. Gonzaga also had issues with team fouls, taking three fouls to WVU’s six fouls early on.
Right around the 14:00 mark in the first half, Gonzaga found their offensive rhythm and the shot clock in front of the West Virginia bench went out. Like the shot clock, the Mountaineers would seemingly also turn the lights out, mentally.
Gonzaga’s offense got a major boost Kevin Pangos’ and Gary Bell’s three pointers. The new found rhythm let Gonzaga roll on a 16-0 run.
During this offensive run by the Zags, WVU continued to struggle offensively. The Mountaineers did not score a single point for seven minutes, allowing the Bulldogs to put WVU in an early 15-point hole.
That would be the theme of the first half. The Bulldogs shook off their slow start to find their stroke, out rebound the Mountaineers, and generally out hustle WVU. Literally, nothing went right for the Mountaineers in the first half.
The team shooting was just horrendous in the first half. The Mountaineers shot 5-23 from the floor for 21.7% with an even worse 1-13 and 7.7% from three point range. Even free throws were and issue for WVU, 7-12 for 58.3%.West Virginia was plagued by 13 turnovers and 13 team fouls in the first half.
The one silver lining to WVU’s almost comical first half was in the rebounding department. The Mountaineers managed to break even with Gonzaga on the boards with 16 rebounds a side. Keaton Miles and Deniz Kilicli fought hard on the boards, collecting 4 and 3 rebounds a piece.
While the rebounds were nice, overall, West Virginia had about as bad a first half as a team can have. Roll all the poor stats up and you get a 45-18 Gonzaga lead going into half-time.
Staring down an 27-point deficit heading into the second half, the Mountaineers mounted a valiant come back. West Virginia found their offensive rhythm and tightened up their coverage on the defensive side of the court. The Mountaineers went on a 14-5 run in the first 5 minutes of the second half, to close Gonzaga’s lead to 18 points.
The Bulldogs would then set off on reasserting their dominant lead, pushing the lead back into the 20+ point range for the remainder of the game. West Virginia at least kept pace with the Zags for the vast majority of the second half, scoring 32 points to Gonzaga’s 39 points in the second half.
West Virginia shooting improved in the second half, but was by no means at an acceptable level for a Bob Huggins team. WVU would finish the game 15-54 from the field, 27.8% shooting, with 3-25 from three for 12.0%. Free throw shooting was mediocre at best, as the Mountaineers only converted 68% of their shots on 17-25 attempts.
The foul trouble of the first half continued to be a theme throughout the second half. WVU had issues setting their feet in the paint to draw charges and got called on some questionable touch fouls. Tight officiating certainly hurt the play of both squads. The Mountaineers collected 28 team fouls with both Noreen and Kilicli fouling out.
West Virginia did a much better job of protecting the ball in the second half, only turning the ball over 2 times. The way the Mountaineers improved their ball security is a reassuring sign for Coach Huggins moving forward.
West Virginia will have a much needed 10 day break prior to facing Marist at Lake Buena Vista, FL in the Old Spice Classic on November 22. Coach Huggins and the rest of the staff will need the time off to get the Mountaineers plenty of reps to build a team chemistry. It will take time for this many transfers and young players to find a comfortable rhythm as was evidenced tonight.
Gameball (Most Valuable Player): Aaric Murray
The big man transfer from LaSalle played relatively well against a superior Gonzaga squad. Having to defend Bulldog bigs Harris and Karnowski, Murray did a serviceable job of keeping both players in check. Murray came up with2 steals, 3 blocks and 4 rebounds on the defensive end of the floor to go with 14 points on 5-8 shooting on the offensive side of the floor. Murray was also the only Mountaineer to hit all of his free throws, converting all 4 attempts from the charity stripe.
Sweaty Towel (Least Valuable Player): Kevin Noreen
Noreen, the back-up center for this contest, came off the bench to give the Mountaineers just 2 points in 8 minutes of playing time. Noreen somehow managed to foul out in his limited action, appearing to have little control of his body in the paint. Kevin was able to generate a foul with an NBA-worthy flop. Style points awarded for Noreen’s acting.