By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Each day that goes by makes you wonder more and more just what kind of team there 2013-14 West Virginia University Mountaineers are.
On Thursday night, in the opening game of the Cancun Challenge, the anticipation was of a fun, competitive battle against a Georgia Southern team that had topped 100 points in two of its first three games – granted against outmanned opposition – but that had gone overtime in an 81-80 loss to Miami, Fla.
But right from the start it was obvious that the Mountaineers were in a different stratosphere that the Eagles, soaring behind point guard Juwan Statens’s 20 points, nine assists, five rebounds and three steals to a 101-68 victory.
It was the third time the Mountaineers had scored 100 points under coach Bob Huggins and the first time since his fifth game after returning to WVU they scored 110 against Maryland-Eastern Shore on Nov. 27, 2007.
In truth, it appeared WVU could have scored 120 points, but you can’t keep the kind of intensity going that they had early, but it was impressive what they accomplished.
Five players reached double figures in this third win in four games, Staten with 20, Terry Henderson and Devin Williams with16, Eron Harris with 15 and Gary Browne with 11.
West Virginia shot 55.9 percent from the field, outrebounded Georgia Southern 46-36, had 24 assists to just 10 turnovers and completely dominated every phase of the game, right up until Kevin Noreen scored a layup with 22 seconds left to go past the century mark.
Right from the start you could tell this was different.
You just didn’t know how different.
That wouldn’t be until about 10 minutes of the game had been played.
Oh, there were hints by then. Nathan Adrian, known as a shooter, had blocked three shots in the first five minutes and West Virginia had scored the game’s first 13 points and rushed out to a 26-7 lead.
What’s more, the Mountaineers were gathering in rebounds and making an assist on almost every basket in what was more clinic than game.
But then the Coliseum roof almost blew off into space as Staten hit his 3.
In other sports that’s like scoring a hole-in-one on a par 5, like knocking down 11 pins in bowling, like kicking a 98-yard field goal.
See, it had been 44 games since Staten had scored a 3. The date was Feb.16, 2011.
He hadn’t scored one in 2012 because he sat out that season after transferring from Dayton to WVU and he hadn’t scored one last year because … well, because he couldn’t.
But this is a different year, a different WVU team and certainly a different Staten, who has become unstoppable with 14 points, 4 assists, one turnover, two steals and 3 rebounds.
“He was happy to finally get a three,” Huggins said. “Before the game he made 13 in a row and made 17 out of 18 and then I quit counting. He’s capable, I think. He said that he just wanted to make one so that people would get off his back.”
And if Staten is better, so is the whole team.
“It’s a mixture of everything,” Staten said. “We told ourselves after last year that everyone should improve on one thing, just bring something new to the table this year. It has made us better as a whole.”
Much of what WVU did in the first half came from its defense.
“The defense improved the first half,” Huggins said. “We didn’t guard as hard the second half obviously. The first half we did a pretty good job. We closed in lanes better. We made it harder for them to find people.
“We still did things wrong. They had the same guy open in the corner four times in a row. That should never happen. That may happen a second time but not a third time.”
But Huggins isn’t going to let a game go by without being critical of some defense and rebounding.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.