MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia, coming off a 96-83 victory over Duquesne last Sunday, will face another up-tempo team in Georgia Southern on Thursday night at the WVU Coliseum.
The Eagles defeated Toccoa Falls 104-50 last Saturday after dropping an 81-80 overtime decision at Miami on Nov. 11. Georgia Southern also shows a 110-74 win over Columbia International.
“They’re guard-oriented,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “They took Miami to overtime. It’s kind of like what we’ve been playing. It’s going to be all ball screens, spread the floor, shoot a lot of 3s, but very guard-oriented.”
Georgia Southern’s Jelani Hewitt will be one of the better guards the Mountaineers will face this year. The junior is currently averaging 25 points per game and he had 27 in the one-point loss to the Hurricanes nine days ago.
“Hewitt is really good at getting his own and he’s got great range,” noted Huggins. “He’s made some shots from real deep and he’s shown an ability (to score) against good people. I think he’d rather drive it than shoot it, but he’s very capable of shooting it.”
Guards Tre Bussey (23.0 ppg.) and Curtis Diamond (10.3 ppg.) are also scoring threats.
West Virginia has had some success holding down the opposing team’s top scores, particularly high-scoring guards. Against Virginia Tech, WVU was able to limit Tech’s Jarrell Eddie to 10 points and last Sunday, Duquesne’s top-scoring tandem of Tra’Vaughn White and Derrick Coulter combined to produce just 12 points.
The issue, however, has come with some of the other players that typically have not posted high scoring numbers this year. Huggins has been preaching the need for his guys to improve their overall team defense.
“We don’t continue to play through plays. We play pretty hard and then figure it’s time for a rest,” said Huggins. “Everybody is pretty good at finding a weak link. Some of it is we get tired and some of it is we lose focus and concentration and we end up standing straight up and staring at the ball and then put ourselves in a bad spot.
“It’s the cumulative number at the end that matters,” he added. “We’ve always told them if a guy comes in averaging three and he gets eight then we did a terrible job. We want to hold people below their average, whatever their average that may be.”
In last Sunday’s 13-point win over the Dukes, most of West Virginia’s offense came from three players: guards Eron Harris
and Juwan Staten
, and 6-foot-9-inch, 255-pound freshman forward Devin Williams
, who finished the game with an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double. Williams is the top offensive rebounder in the Big 12 with 10 offensive boards so far. Huggins sees Williams becoming more of an inside scoring option for the Mountaineers as his teammates grow comfortable throwing him the ball in the paint.
“He’s held on to it too long early on, but I thought he did a great job in the second half in the Duquesne game,” said Huggins. “When they came and doubled him he got rid of it, which he needs to do. He’s getting better and they know we’ve got to score it close some and he’s very good at it.”
Harris and Staten are coming off career-high scoring performances at Duquesne with 33 and 28 points respectively, and both are averaging more than 20 points per game – Harris at 22.7 and Staten at 20.0.
Staten is shooting 51.5 percent from the floor and leads the team with 22 assists, while Harris has made 10 of 19 from 3 so far and is shooting 45.8 percent overall.
Williams shows averages of 10.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
Joining those three in West Virginia’s probable starting lineup are 6-foot-9 freshman forward Nathan Adrian
(7.3 ppg., 3.0 rpg.) and 6-foot-10 junior forward Kevin Noreen
(2.7 ppg., 1.7 rpg.).
Guard Terry Henderson
saw action in last Sunday’s game against Duquesne and could be ready for an expanded role against the Eagles on Thursday night. Backup guard Gary Browne
continues to be slowed by a deep thigh bruise. He did not play in last Sunday’s win against Duquesne.
West Virginia’s game against Georgia Southern is part of the Cancun Challenge and the Mountaineers will also face Presbyterian on Saturday before traveling to Cancun, Mexico over Thanksgiving break to play a pair of games against Old Dominion and either Wisconsin or St. Louis.
“I think this tournament is good for our guys,” said Huggins. “We get to travel. We get to spend some time together and I think it’s great for our fans. Our fans enjoy it and I think our players will enjoy it.”
Thursday night’s game will air locally on ROOT Sports (Rob King, Warren Baker and Rob Incmikoski). The Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG will provide radio coverage on affiliates throughout the Mountain State
Tip off is set for 7 p.m.