By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
December 8, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It’s been nine days since sixth-ranked West Virginia last played a game that counts. That ends Wednesday night with a difficult match up against Duquesne.
The Dukes arrive in Morgantown with a 6-2 record, their losses coming against Western Carolina and against Pittsburgh in a game the Dukes were leading by 16 points early in the second half.
Duquesne also had West Virginia down by eight last year in the A.J. Palumbo Center before rallying to knock off the Dukes 58-53.
“Their two biggest games on their schedule are Pitt and West Virginia,” said West Virginia guard Joe Mazzulla. “They had a 16-point lead against Pitt in the second half and they let that one slide so I’m sure they will be coming into here with a lot of confidence and wanting to knock off a Top 10 team.”
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has been impressed with what he’s seen of Duquesne, which most recently defeated Savannah State 58-44 last Saturday.
Six-seven forward Damian Saunders is averaging 15.3 points and 13.3 rebounds per game and began the season with six straight double-doubles.
“Saunders is a really good player,” Huggins said. “He’s 15-13, leads them in steals; he leads them in blocked shots. I think he’s really good and he’s their inside presence.”
Bill Clark and B.J. Monteiro, both 6-5 wing players, are averaging 17.4 points and 12.6 points per game respectively. Clark had a career-high six 3s against Pitt in a 23-point effort.
Six-one Jason Duty and 5-foot-11 Eric Evans complete Duquesne’s starting five.
“The rest of those guys just spread you,” Huggins said. “They play a little bigger than they are but they don’t have the size that those other people had. They caused us problems particularly when we play a little bigger because they spread you so much.”
A gap in the schedule forced West Virginia to play an exhibition game against Charleston last Saturday night. Otherwise, the Mountaineers would have been idle for 10 days following their 76 Classic appearance in Anaheim, Calif.
“They wanted to play on TV and when you play on TV you have to play when TV says you play,” Huggins said. “They kind of dictate your life to you.”
The 10 days off has been beneficial for some banged up players. Forward Devin Ebanks has been playing with his left hand wrapped after bruising it on the rim in the victory against Texas A&M. Casey Mitchell returned to practice yesterday after sitting out with a sore knee.
“It’s the first time he’s practiced since we got back,” Huggins said.
Huggins used a starting lineup against Charleston that included Ebanks, Da’Sean Butler, Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant.
Freshman Deniz Kilicli also earned a start against Charleston. Kilicli will be eligible to participate in regular season action on Feb. 3 against Pitt.
Wednesday night’s game will be one of the few times that West Virginia will have a distinct size advantage against its opponent. Duquesne coach Ron Everhart has four starters returning from last year’s 21-13 NIT team.
One of Duquesne’s key returners, guard Melquan Bolding, is out 4-to-6 weeks with a fractured wrist suffered in the season opener against Nicholls State.
Duquesne has gone 10-19, 17-13 and 21-13 in three seasons under Everhart, a Fairmont native.
“Ronnie has done an unbelievable job,” said Huggins. “When you look at the fact that I think they won three games the year before he got there and then seven games the year before that. And what he’s done has been remarkable, particularly with the situations that he’s had to encounter.”
Tip off is set for 7 p.m. The game will be televised locally on the Big East Network (Rob King and Bob Wenzel). Stations carrying the game include FSN Pittsburgh, SNY (New York), MASN (Washington, D.C.), Altitude (Denver), Metro 9Kansas City), Time Warner (Wisconsin), Cox (New Orleans and Rhode Island) and ESPN Full Court.
MSN's radio coverage begins with Coliseum Countdown at 6:30 pm. Sirius Satellite radio listeners can access the MSN broadcast on channel 127.
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