Demons an Elixir For Mountaineers

MORGANTOWN – While it remains to be seen if it cured the problems or just masked the symptoms, Big East basement-dwelling DePaul sure seemed to be the perfect elixir for a West Virginia team that had lost two straight going into Saturday’s game.

The Blue Demons, last in the league or close to it in just about everything, including scoring defense where they yield an average of 74.3 points per game, offered little resistance as the Mountaineers led from start to finish in an 82-71 victory.

“Offensively, we got anything we wanted,” forward John Flowers said. “But then again, they’re not the best defensive team.”

Perhaps it was shoddy defense on DePaul’s part, but you had to like that the Mountaineers finally shot better than 50 percent from the field – it had been 10 games (since they last played the Blue Demons) since that happened.

How’d they do it?

By making it easier on themselves.

Twenty-three of WVU’s 28 baskets came off assists, and 16 of them were either layups (13) or dunks (3). The Mountaineers also made 20 of 25 free throws as DePaul couldn’t get out of its own way long enough to stop fouling. West Virginia played the last 12 minutes of the first half in the bonus.

Those are generally high-percentage shots. And signs of extreme defensive deficiencies.

“We mostly got the ball to the rim and got close shots rather than 3-pointers and jump shots,” guard Dalton Pepper said. “That’s what we mainly focused on this week was attacking the defense and getting the ball closer to the rim.”

Each of West Virginia’s first 10 points came on layups before John Flowers hit a 3-pointer nearly 5 minutes in. When it was over, five different players had scored in double figures and three guys had five assists or more.

“We’re one of the top teams in the conference when we move the ball,” guard Casey Mitchell said. “When we don’t move the ball and just take 1-on-1 shots, we’re not too good. When we move the ball, we can pretty much beat anybody.”

They’ll find that out soon enough, as five of their last six games are against the nation’s elite.

So Saturday was about confidence building. Coach Bob Huggins drew this game plan up for a reason.

“I try to tell Casey and Truck (Bryant) and Pep and a lot of those guys, if you go out and blast up five jumpers and don’t make any, you’re thinking to yourself, ‘I’m having a bad day, I’m 0-for-5,’ ” Huggins said. “But if you get yourself a layup, get you a rebound goal, all of a sudden, now you’re 2-for-5 and you’re thinking the next one might go in.”

The Mountaineers didn’t even run offensive sets in the second half, as Huggins figured the way DePaul was trying to defend from behind – WVU once led by as much as 17 – slips and back cuts would be there for the taking.

“I thought we were really good until the end, then we started standing around, standing in the post,” Huggins said. “When you’ve got them on the run and you’ve got them really chasing you, that’s when you have to spread them and back cut them. When you’re just standing in the post, you can’t relieve pressure.”

In the end, and regardless of DePaul’s 0-12 league record, it was still a test for the Mountaineers.

And they passed. Twenty-three times.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail