MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – For West Virginia, good defense trumped bad offense on Wednesday night against Seton Hall at the WVU Coliseum.
West Virginia, now 15-6, 6-3, held the Pirates to just 17 first-half points and 29.5% shooting to record a 56-44 victory. But the winning margin could have been much worse if not for some poor offensive play by the Mountaineers late in the game.
West Virginia, leading Seton Hall 51-31, scored only five points over the remaining 7:37 of the game, just two of those points coming from a field goal when Cam Thoroughman converted a layup with 4:29 to go.
“They scored 44 points and we gave them 8-10 when we kind of stopped playing,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “We just weren’t very good in the second half.”
What perplexed Huggins most were some of the problems he thought he had fixed from previous games, namely the team’s inability to pass the ball and work off of each other to get good shots.
“We just came out and stood around,” Huggins said. “That’s as bad as we’ve been offensively than I can ever remember. We didn’t shoot it in sometimes, but at least we didn’t just stand there. We just stood.”
Fortunately for West Virginia, Seton Hall (10-13, 4-7) dug such a deep hole in the first half that it couldn’t get out. Jeremy Hazell, who burned the Mountaineers for 41 two years ago and came into tonight’s contest averaging more than 27 points in four career games against WVU, finished with 5 points on 1 of 8 shooting. Forward John Flowers drew the assignment of guarding Hazell tonight.
“John was good but John wasn’t as good as he’s been sometimes,” Huggins said. “John gets to the ball. John is one of the guys like the old guys who flies to the ball and makes plays around the ball.”
In addition to shutting down Hazell, Flowers had 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks to join three other double-digit scorers, led by Kevin Jones’ 13 points. Jones also grabbed 12 rebounds and scored his 1,000th career point in the first half.
Deniz Kilicli and Cam Thoroughman contributed 10 points each – for Thoroughman it was a career high.
“We kept thinking Cam is going to make some shots because they don’t guard him and he’s got 10 footers,” said Huggins. “During timeouts most people diagram plays to get those kinds of shots and we just happened to throw it to him because they don’t guard him and he made some. Deniz came in and played pretty well and we kind of got it going. Jonnie (West) came in and made a big 3 for us.”
Joe Mazzulla pulled down 10 rebounds and handed out five assists.
Tonight was the fifth consecutive game West Virginia’s defense has held its opposition below 40% shooting. During this most recent five-game stretch, opposing teams are shooting just 34.6% (98 of 283) and 22.4% from 3 (19 of 85) during West Virginia’s last four games.
Still, West Virginia is not going to continue winning while having long scoreless stretches as it did once again tonight.
“We don’t have a guy that can play off the bounce and that’s OK,” Huggins explained. “I keep telling them that’s OK. Just do what you’re supposed to do. Just do what you’re good at doing. We’ll get you mismatches. We’ll find a mismatch where we can throw it in the post a little bit or where we can get a wide open shot. It’s not going to be the same guy all of the time but that’s alright. You’re so much better off doing that than taking bad shots, which we did in the second half and which I don’t understand.
“We have some guys that have had to work really, really hard to get their field goal percentage back up into the 40s and then they come out in the second half and miss about eight shots that they have no business taking,” Huggins said. “Why would you do that? That just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
West Virginia, now in a four-way tie with Villanova, Louisville and Notre Dame for second place in the league standings, has two tough ones on the horizon at No. 12 Villanova on Saturday afternoon and then at home on Big Monday against No. 4 Pitt.
“We’ve got a hard game on Saturday and then we come home and have one day and then we have another hard game here,” said Huggins.