By John Raby
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is seeing slow improvement out of a freshman-dominated lineup.
Kevin Jones scored 23 points and West Virginia broke out to a big lead early and coasted to an 83-48 win over Morehead State on Tuesday night.
In the third-ever meeting between the schools and first since 1981, West Virginia (3-1) raced ahead 20-4 less than 8 minutes into the game and led by as many as 37 points in the second half.
Huggins is still trying to figure out a lineup that includes eight freshmen. Jones, a senior, has carried the scoring load so far and he and Deniz Kilicli, a junior, are combining for nearly half of the team’s rebounds.
West Virginia held a 40-22 rebounding advantage, led by Jones’ 10.
West Virginia had no problem handling Morehead State’s full-court defense and up-tempo offense. The Mountaineers shot 53 percent (28 of 53) from the floor and forced 23 turnovers.
“Our rotations are better,” Huggins said. “They recognize a little bit better what we’re trying to do. We did a much better job against pressure. Our spacing was so much better. We weren’t standing on top of each other.”
Truck Bryant added 14 points and Kilicli and backup freshman guard Gary Browne scored 10 apiece for the Mountaineers.
“Gary’s playing harder,” Huggins said. “He’s not taking plays off.”
Starting freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds had eight points and five assists in 28 minutes for West Virginia, while walk-on freshman Paul Williamson hit a pair of 3-pointers in the closing minutes.
The Mountaineers won’t win many games on free throws alone. West Virginia made 19 of 31 (61 percent), including 9 of 21 in the first half.
Huggins said none of his players make less than 73 percent of their free throws in practice.
“I just didn’t think our concentration was very good,” Huggins said. “It’s kind of like getting the measles. It just spreads. I can’t shoot it for them. I can’t make them make free throws.”
Jones sank two free throws to cap an 11-2 run for the Mountaineers to open the second half for a 52-24 lead with 15:47 remaining.
Morehead State’s best moments came when Marsell Holden hit 3-pointers 28 seconds apart during a 10-2 run after that to cut the deficit to 66-41, but the Eagles then went without a basket over a 5-minute stretch.
Five different players scored for West Virginia during the Mountaineers’ ensuing 13-0 run to push their lead to 77-41 with 4:06 left.
“We were trying to deny them from getting fast breaks which we knew that’s what they liked to do,” Jones said. “On the other end, we wanted to attack them because we knew that they weren’t very good on defense.
“We’re still really young and unpredictable right now, so we just take it one game at a time.”
Morehead State won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament last season and upset Louisville in the NCAA Tournament. But the Eagles are trying to figure out how to make up for the loss of departed senior Kenneth Faried, who averaged 17.5 points per game last season.
Terrance Hill scored 24 points for Morehead State (1-3), which has two losses of more than 30 points this season.
Morehead State shot 38 percent (18 of 47) from the floor and attempted just five free throws.