MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Bob Huggins pulled out an old John Beilein trick by using a 1-3-1 zone defense and it ended up paying off against an old Beilein protégé as West Virginia pulled out a 72-62 victory over Radford Saturday afternoon at the WVU Coliseum.
Coach Mike Brown, a former Beilein assistant coach at Richmond and West Virginia, watched his young Highlanders team struggle to score against the Mountaineers’ zone over the final nine minutes of the game.
“The 1-3-1 really changed the game and when you’ve got that much length out there it’s a pretty good defense to be in,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
Trailing 49-48 after a Kion Brown jumper with 9:10 left, West Virginia used a 12-1 run to build a 60-50 lead. The Mountaineers’ margin swelled to 13, 66-53, after a Gary Browne driving basket with 3:58 left.
Aaric Murray had his most productive game for West Virginia, scoring 23 points, grabbing eight rebounds, handing out four assists and making three steals. Murray was the only WVU player to reach double figures.
“We didn’t play very well,” said Huggins. “We tried to change some things to get to the foul line more and maybe get to the rim a little bit more.”
At the beginning of the game, Huggins used Murray, a 6-foot-10-inch forward, out on the wing to either shoot the 3 or try and create some space in the lane, but Murray was unable to knock down a 3 (0 for 4) and West Virginia struggled for a good portion of the first half in its half-court sets.
“We were just going to step him out, open up the lane and try to get it into the lane and we go the first four times down and we shoot jump shots that aren’t even close,” said Huggins. “We didn’t get it in, and we kept doing the same thing we’ve been doing and it wasn’t very good.”
Senior Deniz Kilicli scored the team’s first four points, but West Virginia fell behind 13-9 after a Javonte Green steal and dunk and the Mountaineers didn’t get their first lead until 4:25 left in the first half on a short Murray jumper.
West Virginia (6-5) began the game ice-cold from the floor, missing 11 of its first 15 shots before finishing the half making six of nine. WVU hit 12 of 24 in the second half to make 18 of its final 33 field goal attempts.
The Mountaineers had a slight 34-31 edge on the glass, turned the ball over 14 times and shot 45.8 percent from the floor for the game. West Virginia outscored Radford 25-11 at the free throw line and 28-16 from the bench.
“You’ve got some guys in there who are like, ‘Man, what do I have to do to get into the game?’ Get a rebound. Make a pass. Guard your man. Run the floor … everybody can do that,” said Huggins. “My wife asked me the other day what I wanted for Christmas and I said players.”
Radford (5-7) turned the ball over 17 times and shot only 3-of-18 from 3-point distance for the game. Green led Radford with 17 points and 10 rebounds while Blake Smith scored 13.
There were seven ties and nine lead changes.
West Virginia has one more crack against a non-league team at the Coliseum on Sunday, Dec. 30, against Eastern Kentucky before opening Big 12 Conference play against Oklahoma on Jan. 5.