By Mickey Furfari
MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University men’s basketball was at its high-scoring best on Sunday afternoon in gunning down the Seton Hall Pirates.
A Coliseum crowd of 10,074 saw the Mountaineers lead all the way, once by as many as 30 points, in posting an easy 89-68 victory. The point-total is their highest of the season for a conference game.
In making its record 18-7 overall and 7-5 in the Big East standings, West Virginia shot a sizzling 53.7 percent from the field (36-of-67) while limiting SHU to 42.1 percent (24-of-57). The Mountaineers also managed a staggering 47-26 margin in rebounds and had 13 turnovers to 12.
In all, Coach Bob Huggins used a total of 13 players. Only eight players shared playing time for the Pirates (15-11, 5-8), who now have lost five consecutive games
“Winning never is very easy from where I sit,” Huggins said. “We made more shots, shot the ball better, and our ball movement was better. I thought we really shared the ball (24 assists). We are getting better.
“That’s a hard bunch to guard because they spread you and they are also good at playing off the dribble. Our defense kept us in games. We just needed to start shooting the ball a little bit better. I thought we did a good job on the defensive end, too.”
Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzales said, “We are a little bit beat-up right now, but we tried to make it work. (West Virginia) looks like an NCAA basketball team.
“When you turn the ball over is when you are the most vulnerable. So sometimes it was us not running back and giving up open threes. It was we turned the ball over and they got run-outs on us.”
Gonzales’ team has been weakened by injuries. Losing Paul Gause to a knee injury for much of the season really has hampered the Pirates, who won five league games in a row before slipping into their current skid.
“We are fighting to get into the Big East tournament,” Gonzales said. “We have had some great moments.”
Jeremy Hazell scored a game-high 30 points for Seton Hall. He had 20 by halftime when WVU held a 45-30 lead.
Joe Alexander showed 13 points for West Virginia at intermission. The 6-8 junior center, who admittedly likes to be called “The Hammer,” finished the afternoon without adding to that total. But he also had game-highs of nine rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots.
Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff led the scoring with 15 points each, and point guard Darris Nichols chipped in 11 points and five assists.
Nichols broke the school record with his 129th game of his career.
“I feel older,” the senior said. “But it feels great to have played in every game since I’ve been here. I’m lucky I have been here through the golden era of West Virginia basketball.”
“This is going faster for me. I kind of have mixed emotions that this is my last go-round.”
Huggins praised Nichols. “You have to be a pretty good player,” he said. “You got to be a little bit lucky. You can’t do much sometimes when you get injured. Darris’ mindset and preparation doesn’t change.
“He comes in everyday the same. He may not shoot it as well as others, but his effort and approach are consistent. I’m glad we were able to get him out for a little bit this game.”
West Virginia jumped out to 21-9 lead and never looked back. But SHU cut the deficit to 10 at 29-19 before the Mountaineers made it 45-30 at halftime. The score was 69-41 midway of the second half.
The biggest bulge came at 77-47 and 49-49 before Huggins cleaned the bench.
Alexander said, “We’re focusing more, developing better, and improving. Ruoff and I are coming along well because we’re both athletic.”
Center Jamie Smalligan played only 12 minutes against the smaller Pirates. But he said he’s got his confidence back, along with the other players, and is doing what he can to help the team head into March strong.
West Virginia goes on the road Wednesday for a Big East game at Providence.