WVU Ready for Conference Play

MORGANTOWN – It took three scorers in double figures – one with a career high – and a sterling free-throw performance for West Virginia to hold off Eastern Kentucky, 74-67, Sunday

For coach Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers (7-5), it was the third straight victory heading into the Big 12 portion of the schedule. Guards Gary Browne and Juwan Staten had 17 – for Browne it was a career best – and Deniz Kilicli added 10.

For Jeff Neubauer’s Colonels (10-3), gunner Glenn Cosey knocked down a game-high 21 points. Mike DiNunno and reserve Orlando Williams chipped in with 10 apiece.

Cosey (8 of 14) threw in 5 of 10 3-point shots. It was the long bombs that brought the visiting Colonels back after they trailed by 16 points 2 minutes after hafltime.

From 1:45 of the first half to 17:43 of the second half, the Colonels hit four straight 3-points shots to give them their only points of the span. Cosey hit the last two 3-pointers of the first half.

In the first half, the Colonels mustered only 3 of 10 from distance as they shot a poor 27.6 percent (8 of 29) from the field. It was West Virginia’s second-best 3-point defense, in terms of percentage, for the season.

Eastern Kentucky connected on 11 of 26 (44.6 percent) versus 20 of 49 made shots (40.8 percent) for WVU for the game. The Mountaineers missed 10 of 12 3s in the second half.

The difference for West Virginia came at the foul line, where, coming in, it was hitting a respectable 70.2 percent.

“We just need to continue playing 40 minutes. We came out tough and played great defense, made shots and I thought we were going to put them away early, but we let them creep back in it in the second half and we had to grind it out. We just have to put two halves together,” said Staten, who came just shy of his career-high 18 points.

“Free throw shooting was great for us. It’s something that we’ve been concentrating a lot on in practice every day. We make sure that we shoot 100 in practice and if we get to practice early, we make sure we shoot extra free throws.”

Against EKU, WVU knocked in 32 of 39 of the foul shots (82.1 percent). The Colonels bagged 6 of 11 (54.5 percent).

Eastern Kentucky chose to put the Mountaineers on the line in the game’s final 10 minutes and the home team returned fire, making 90 percent (18 of 20) of then. Of those 18 points, Browne contributed six from the line. Reserve center Dominique Rutledge contributed five.

Rutledge, who was 5 of 6 from the line, also contributed three blocks. He made a key defensive play with 1:31 remaining – he took a charge near the lane – and West Virginia went ahead 68-64 after Browne’s consecutive foul shots.

On the ensuing possession, Aaric Murray, who was averaging 17.5 points the last two games, chimed in with two foul shots to make the scoreboard read 70-64 with 47.7 remaining. As it turned out, those were the last points the Mountaineers needed to polish off the non-BCS foe.

“Dom (Rutledge) definitely has the talent. Sometimes, he’s in and out at times but he’s getting better with that,” said Staten.

“That charge was great because if he hadn’t taken that charge, they were probably going to score. It was a big play in a crucial part of the game – it was a great play.”

Browne, who played 30 of 40 minutes after entering the game early, was 10 of 11 from the line. He had six rebounds, two assists, two steals and just one turnover.

“Our guards in general have been trying to put a lot of pressure on the rim and get a lot of paint touches. We’ve been concentrating hard on just driving the ball and getting shots for teammates but today he (Browne) was getting fouled and getting to the line and he was knocking them down,” said Staten.

Staten was 4 of 6 from the field, made all nine free throws, hoarded four rebounds and handed out six assists in 36 minutes.

Kilicli, a starter who had scored just five points during the last two games, was in double figures for the first time since scoring 21 against Marshall Dec. 5.

WVU has won 46 of its last 47 nonconference games at home.

“First of all, I’m really pleased and proud of how our guys fought back in the second half. In the first half we really tried to do what we normally do offensively and I felt that we could come into the game and it proved after 20 minutes of basketball that we needed to ball screen, ball screen, ball screen. Our guards, especially Mike DiNunno, really did a good job of getting into the paint and creating for others,” said Neubauer.