Mountaineers Pull Away From Radford

MORGANTOWN – West Virginia is the kind of program that’s supposed to recruit players who were their state’s Mr. Basketball and beat up on the type of programs that recruit the less-heralded kid brother.

But there the Mountaineers were again, even with Minnesota’s prolific scorer Kevin Noreen, in a point-for-point scuffle with Kyle Noreen and the Big South’s Radford Higlanders on Saturday. They wound up winning 72-62, but close ones against mid-majors – a loss to Duquense, a narrow victory against Oakland, trailing most of the first half against Radford at home – aren’t supposed to be the norm when you’ve got the star player and they’ve got little bro.

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is so concerned with it, he has taken a break from voicing his disapproval of low fan turnouts. There were 7,073 at this one, less than 5,000 against Oakland.

“I have a tendency to try to motive the fans in years when I don’t have to motivate my players,” he said. “I’m a big believer in history. If you get too spread out, you get your ass beat.”

Back to the game, the Mountaineers won, in part, because they’ve put in a new offense and went back to a defense Radford coach Mike Jones should know like the back of his hand. West Virginia (6-5) limited the Highlanders (5-7) to four field goals the last 9:10 of the game, utilizing the 1-3-1 zone.

Jones was an assistant at WVU during the 2002-03 season under John Beilein.

“We had a lot of freshmen out there playing,” Jones said. “We saw the 1-3-1 earlier against Eastern Kentucky (West Virginia’s next middling foe) and UNC-Charlotte, but WVU’s 1-3-1 is bigger and a little bit more aggressive. It allowed them to stretch their lead.”

The score was 49-48 in favor of the Highlanders with 9:10 left. The Mountaineers rattled 24 of the game’s last 37 points because of that defensive effort, and because of an offense, that is very much a work in progress, bore some fruits.

“It was still too new to us,” point guard Juwan Staten said. “In the second half, after the game calmed down a little bit, people were able to get into their spots and it was a little bit easier to make plays out of it.”

The offense features four out and one in, as Huggins tries to take advantage of someone’s talents anyone’s at this point.

“We’ve changed some things that we thought would accentuate what some of our guys we think are pretty good at doing,” Huggins said.

In this case, it’s an abundance of guards who can penetrate and find an open man or lay it in. Still, Huggins said, there are many other deficiencies with these all-over-the-place Mountaineers.

“I feel like the guy running around sticking all my fingers and toes and everything else in the dam,” Huggins said. “It’s hard to fix everything at once.”

As it was, West Virginia led 31-27 after a sloppy first half in which 13 players saw action as Huggins waited for someone to grab what he termed “a bigger slice of the pie.”

“I don’t know who wants any pie,” Huggins said. “They’re good guys. I think what it is is they want to share.”

Radford was in front much of the way until Aaric Murray came alive with three straight baskets near the four-minute mark to give West Virginia its first lead of the half.

Murray wound up with 23 points and eight rebounds, obliterating his season high of 15 points, and it was his second consecutive solid game following his being left behind for the Michigan game because he was late for a practice prior to it.

The Mountaineers wound up shooting 45 percent overall (22 of 48) excellent for a team that came in 287th in the country in field goal percentage but they also turned it over 14 times, with eight of them being unforced.

Huggins said that could have been much better, had anyone looked at more than just the guy next to him.

“We’re like the quarterback who makes the first look and that’s it,” he said. “He’s not very successful. He’s a bad quarterback. We’re looking at the first option and we won’t look at two, three, and four. That’s what Da’Sean (Butler) and those guys got so good at doing.”

West Virginia’s Deniz Kilicli had four points inside of the game’s first five minutes, or four more than he had in the last two games combined. Still, he was subbed out at the 9:08 mark and didn’t return until the start of the second half and played just nine minutes.

Outside of Murray, no WVU player scored in double figures. Kevin Noreen was held scoreless, while Kyle Noreen, who averages 4.4 points per game, had more than that in a 25-second span early in the second half when he hit a 3, went back on defense, stole a Gary Browne pass and took it in for a lay-in, getting Radford within two at 39-37 with 16:10 remaining. Those were the only points he scored.

Jovante Green led the Highlanders with 17 points and 10 rebounds.