The time has come to make an admission:
This gutsy, hustling, hard-knocking basketball team that Bob Huggins has at West Virginia University can play defense.
Big time defense.
Don’t believe it, ask Seton Hall, the latest victim, falling, 56-44, at the Coliseum before a disappointing crowd of 9,729 Wednesday night.
The 44 points were the fewest WVU had ever allowed in a Big East game, but, then again, that’s becoming a rather routine occurrence. Four games back they set the previous low, allowing South Florida 46.
In between those two games, they gave up 55 at Louisville and 55 at Cincinnati. Put the four games together and the Mountaineers have allowed 200 points in four games, an average of 50 a game.
Hard to lose when you do that and WVU isn’t, having won three of the four to move into a four-way tie for second place in the Big East … and that without Casey Mitchell, the team’s leading scorer, who is on suspension, and without Danny Jennings, who is who knows where.
They supposedly are shorthanded with just eight scholarship players, but when the other team has the ball it seems that all eight of them are on the floor playing defense at the same time. Certainly Seton Hall felt that way when it threw up almost as many air balls as baskets in the first half, scoring just 17 points on 23.1 percent shooting.
What makes you believe that this really might be something special is that Seton Hall scored 90 points at Syracuse last week, then had less than half that against WVU.
“They’re a terrific defensive team and they’re hard-nosed,” said Seton Hall Coach Kevin Willard. “We knew we were going to struggle with the score, but I didn’t think we were going to struggle that much.”
The Hall has a few good offensive players, beginning with Jeremy Hazell, who once dropped 41 on the Mountaineers. In this game he had 5 as John Flowers smothered him. He went 1-8 for the field, 0-6 from 3.
As a team, Seton Hall made only two of 19 3s. Of course, WVU wasn’t much better at 3-for-16, although one did come from Jonnie West, who finally got into a game after sitting out the last two.
“We guard pretty well,” Huggins would admit. “We’ve made a lot of progress defensively and we’ve made a lot of progress rebounding the basketball. We’re only going to be so good offensively because we don’t shoot it straight and we can’t make a play off the bounce.”
Scoring 56 points is proof that the offense isn’t where one would want it to be, but it has evolved into an eclectic, if not electric, offense.
“We’re playing together. No one cares who shoots or scores,” guard Joe Mazzulla put it.
Because of that you have things like this happening:
• Senior Cam Thoroughman reaching double figures for the first time in the 105th game of his career, scoring 10 points.
• Kevin Jones reaching 1,000 points for his career as the 46th player in WVU history, then passing Patrick Beilein to go into 45th place all-time in points scored.
• Joe Mazzulla, the guard, pulling down 12 rebounds, three of them offensive end – on the same possession. The 12 rebounds were one more than he pulled down against Duke for a career-high in the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
• Truck Bryant again going 1-for-7 shooting, meaning he is 18 for 79 shooting since scoring 25 points against Marquette on New Year’s Day. That’s a 22.8 percent shooting percentage.
• And finally, there was forward Deniz Kilicli, who air-balled a free throw … but, hey, that’s how about one of every five shots taken went during this game.
If you like artistic basketball, you were in the wrong gymnasium. This was a pickup game straight from 172nd street in Harlem, the kind of game Seton Hall likes to play.
They found a team willing to take them on, especially big Kilicli, who did some scuffling with Herb Pope at times.
“It’s fun,” the often smiling Kilicli admitted. “We fought as a team in a national game against Serbia. I mean, everyone was out there. It’s all about attitude.”
And few teams win attitude battles against a team coached by Huggins and played by players like Kilicli, Mazzulla, Thoroughman and John Flowers.
That is why the Mountaineers have become such a force on the boards, outrebounding Seton Hall, 48-36.
The Mountaineers were in complete control until late, when the play got really sloppy and Seton Hall cut it to 10 points with the ball and 1:02 left to play.
“We just stood around I don’t know why we do it,” Huggins said. “I can’t explain it. We took bad shots and we took shots out of character for what this team has to do to be good.
“We don’t have guys that can dribble the ball and make plays, so we have to rely on being able to screen, cut, pass and make open shots. When we do that, we’re pretty good and when we don’t, we’re not very good.”
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The time has come to make an admission:
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