By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It wasn’t exactly the start of what would be a surprisingly overwhelming performance by West Virginia in the Mountaineers final non-conference encounter of the season, but it was the spark that made certain this wasn’t going to be Gonzaga all over again.
West Virginia had started slowly, falling behind William & Mary in a game they would eventually win 82-45 before 8,885 fans at the Civic Center in Charleston. Five and a half minutes in they were tied at 8-8 and nearly three minutes later the score was the same, as Remi Dibo threw up a 3-point shot that missed the basket by an area code or two.
This wasn’t just a miss. It was an embarrassing miss, about to bounce out of bounds before Kevin Noreen could save it, get it back into play and, don’t you know it, the ball went around the horn back into Dibo’s hands.
Bashful is not an adjective you can use with Dibo, for he immediately launched another 3 and this one went swish to give WVU an 11-8 lead that got the joint jumping.
“Remi is unique,” Coach Bob Huggins said. “Most people who take their first shot and miss by 12 feet don’t start clapping their hands and want to get another one.”
Especially not coming off a game in which he had been inserted into the starting for the first time and did absolutely nothing, a shooter who had missed the only two shots he had taken.
Seeing that series of events, however, lit the fuse.
Seconds later came the explosion.
A steal put WVU in transition, the ball winding up in point guard Juwan Staten’s hands while in full stride, allowing him to soar to the basket and complete a thunderous slam.
“’uwanny got in transitions and had the dunk that fueled us,” Huggins said. “It was nice to see him make one.”
Indeed, twice before this season Staten had tried such dunks only to slam the ball off the rim and have it ricochet away.
Not this time. The crowd was on its feet, the bench was on its feet and Dibo was calling for the ball again, hitting another 3.
By halftime, this WVU team that had made but 3 of 18 3s against Purdue in its last game was raining 3s, leading 41-24.
And they would not relent this time as they did in blowing a 17-point lead to Gonzaga.
What made this impressive is that William & Mary is not a bad team, a team that could win the Colonial Athletic Conference this season. It was a team averaging 76 points a game, but WVU found the defensive answer and held them to 25 percent shooting in each half and to 45 points for the entire game.
Meanwhile, magic was occurring for WVU. Freshman Nathan Adrian, who had been struggling, suffered a broken nose in the first half, only to come back and score 14 second-half points and finish with a career-high 16.
Terry Henderson proclaimed himself ready for Big 12 play, which begins on Jan. 4 and 6 with a trip to TCU and Texas Tech, with his best showing of the year, scoring 19 points.
And then there was Staten, who has emerged as one of the most dynamic players in the Big 12 after what really was a lackluster season in 2012-13.
Staten spent the afternoon flirting with a triple-double, something seems almost inevitable before he leaves WVU.
This time he scored 16 points, had 10 rebounds and six assists.
While all this was happening, WVU was playing the kind of defense Huggins has been trying to get out of them all season.
“Kevin Noreen came in and did a great job,” Huggins said. “He made them catch it higher than wanted and that elongated those passing lanes. We probably had more steals than we had all year.”
WVU wound up with seven steals, three by Henderson, who also pounded the boards harder than he had all season.
The result of the defense was that 25 percent shooting percentage as William & Mary could not get the layups that Purdue had gotten.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel