MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia’s full-court pressure defense eventually wore down VMI and the 15th-ranked Mountaineers cruised to their eighth victory of the season, 90-55, here at the WVU Coliseum this afternoon.
An announced crowd of 9,023 saw West Virginia coach Bob Huggins earn his 799th career victory as a college coach, and his 209th at WVU.
The win today against 1-7 VMI was never in doubt, but the Keydets did hang around longer than most people expected.
“I didn’t think we came out ready to play,” said Huggins.
VMI trailed by just five, 22-17 with 7:36 remaining in the first half and then by six with 4:34 left. Then, early in the second half the Keydets got a conventional three-point play from Will Miller to pull within 12.
The Mountaineers (8-1) were slow closing out on defense, allowing VMI to convert eight 3s, permitted the much smaller Keydets to grab 13 offensive rebounds, missed several layups and was just 26 of 42 from the free throw line.
“When you fumble balls and can’t make a free throw that’s generally lack of focus,” said Huggins. “We were horrible again from the free throw line.”
But eventually, the constant pressure got to VMI as West Virginia’s lead swelled to 20 at the 10-minute mark, and then to 30 with 6:34 to go.
WVU’s biggest lead was 38 with 3:16 remaining.
“I thought we came out in the second half and played much better,” noted Huggins. “We made a few more shots in the second half and got the ball a little closer and scored in transition.”
Guard Daxter Miles Jr.
made 5 of 6 from 3 and finished with a game-high 20 points. The junior became the first Mountaineer player to eclipse the 20-point barrier this season.
recovered from a poor first half to finish with12, and senior forward Brandon Watkins
came off the bench to give the Mountaineers a big boost with 11 points and 10 rebounds in just 17 minutes of action. That was his second career double-double.
“When he’s active he’s pretty good,” said Huggins of Watkins. “When you get 11 and 10 in 17 minutes of play you’re pretty active. He’s mobile, he can run and I think between (bigs Elijah Macon
, Sagaba Konate
and Watkins) Sags gives us a shot blocker, Brandon’s understanding of what we need to do offensively I think is the best of the three and Elijah is giving us good solid minutes.”
Those three players combined to score 21 points, grab 18 rebounds and block four shots.
Freshman guard James “Beetle” Bolden finished with 9 points on three 3s, getting some extended work with the ones, including a second half start.
“With Beetle it’s going to be continuing to gain some strength,” said Huggins. “You look at him and compare him to JC (Jevon Carter
), Dax and Tarik (Phillip) and he just doesn’t have the physicality of those three.”
West Virginia once again dominated all of the specialty statistics, including a 27-3 advantage in points off of turnovers, a 34-9 edge in second-chance points and a 44-28 advantage in points off the bench.
Twelve different Mountaineer players got into the scoring column this afternoon.
Q.J. Peterson led VMI with 17 points.
The Keydets turned the ball over 22 times, 4.5 times fewer than West Virginia’s opponents have turned the ball over in eight prior games this season.
“(VMI) will play really hard and they won’t quit because that’s what they’re trained to do,” said Huggins. “I don’t think we would want soldiers that quit so you knew that wasn’t going to happen.”
West Virginia has a week off now with final examinations taking place this coming week and will play again on Saturday at the WVU Coliseum against Missouri-Kansas City in another 2 p.m. matinee that will be televised locally on ROOT SPORTS.