By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight finally hits the bulls-eye and if most of it was from point blank range, no one was complaining as West Virginia defeated hapless, hopeless and helpless DePaul, 82-71, Saturday at the Coliseum before 11,210.
Facing a DePaul team that is looking for its first Big East victory since Jan. 10, 2010, is normally a pretty cure for what ails you and West Virginia used it to cure a lot of ills.
In the seven games leading into this matchup with DePaul, WVU was shooting a combined 37.5 percent and averaged 60 points a game.
The Mountaineers reached 80 points for the first time since Jan. 13 when they laid 93 on Providence and they shot 52.8 percent from the floor, the first time since they shot 51.9 percent against … yes, DePaul in their first meeting on Jan. 3.
It was the first time they hit 50 percent on anyone other than DePaul since hitting 55.8 percent against Robert Morris on Pearl Harbor Day, 2010.
Do not let it be said, however, that the Mountaineers’ shooting woes are conclusively over. If you go inside the numbers and look at the 28 baskets WVU scored you suddenly realize that this was little more than a glorified layup line through much of the afternoon.
Of those 28 baskets, 20 were layups.
Six were 3s, two by Casey Mitchell, two by John Flowers and one each by Truck Bryant and Dalton Pepper.
That leaves only two shots other than layups or 3s, one being a Deniz Kilicli hook and the other being Kevin Jones hitting a baseline jumper.
But no one was complaining, considering how much teamwork it had to take to set up those layups, many on terrific back-door cuts and sweet feeds.
“It was the first game in a while we in which we scored with back cuts,” Joe Mazzulla said. “We had more patience on offense.”
In fact, WVU had 23 assists on its 28 baskets, the assists almost as well spread out as the scoring.
The two point guards, Mazzulla and Truck Bryant, had six each and their point forward Cam Thoroughman added five.
“We shared the ball,” said John Flowers, but he felt obligated to add, “they’re not the best defensive team.”
In fact, DePaul is the worst defensive team in the Big East, giving up 50.6 percent of the field goals taken against them.
As for the scoring, WVU had five in double figures with Flowers leading the way with 15, Mazzulla and Kilicli collecting 12 each and Mitchell and Bryant 11 each. The truth of the matter is, WVU narrowly missed having seven players in double figures as Dalton Pepper had a nice game with nine points and Jones had eight.
The tone of this one was set right from the opening basket just 10 seconds into the game when the Mountaineers ran back-cut play through Thoroughman for Mazzulla that resulted in an uncontested layup.
“We ran offense today and did a good job of handling the pressure,” Mazzulla said. “The pressure was not much of a factor.”
Coach Oliver Purnell, in his first season at DePaul, made a reputation with his pressure defense at Dayton and Clemson before coming to Chicago, but he had some athletes who could run it there.
At DePaul, he has picked up a couple of nice recruits in forward Cleveland Melvin and guard Brandon Young, but what he inherited from the evicted coach, Jerry Wainwright, can’t quite put the pressure on the way it has to be applied to be successful.
The result is the DePaul losing streak grew to 25 consecutive Big East Conference games, 26 counting one Big East Tournament game last March.
“I’m sure it grinds on them. We’ve been playing better and better, just not playing good enough to win or close games,” Purnell said. “They’ve done an outstanding job in the face of a lot of adversity. It’s though to take for anyone.”
West Virginia now has a day off to head to Syracuse where they will get in a practice at the Carrier Dome for what has become a crucial game. The Mountaineers are 16-8, 7-5 in the Big East while Syracuse is 20-6 and 7-6 in the conference. Syracuse has lost six of its last eight games.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.