TCU West Virginia Basketball

West Virginia forwards Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) and Oscar Tshiebwe (34) celebrate after a score during the first half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against TCU on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Kathleen Batten)

MORGANTOWN — If the nation didn’t believe before, it does now.

West Virginia did everything right in a late night 81-49 mugging of TCU — which had come into the game leading the Big 12 with a 3-0 record — proving not only that it deserves its No. 12 national ranking but it probably ought to be ready to jump into the Top 10.

The Mountaineers excited a Coliseum crowd of 14,445 by hitting a season-high 58 percent of their shots. They got a dominant inside performance from Derek Culver, who picked up another double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, mixed it in with crisp passing that produced 20 assists, and then turned the “Mountaineer Madness” defense loose to smother the league’s top 3-point shooting team.

Over the last eight games WVU has allowed only one team to score more than 60 points and has given up an average of just 54.6 points per game over that span.

“We passed the ball, finally,” coach Bob Huggins said as he moved to within two wins of tying the legendary Adolph Rupp for seventh on the all-time list.

Huggins had a plan coming in centered around Culver and trying to make him even more dominant than he normally is.

“We have to get Derek the ball close to the basket. When we don’t, by the time he dribbles twice to get there, everybody down there is on him, even Jamie,” he joked before the game.

Jamie, of course, is TCU coach Jamie Dixon.

Well, they got it to Culver down low and he made 6-of-7 shots. In the second half they concentrated on getting the ball low to Oscar Tshiebwe, which allowed him to score nine points after the intermission to finish with 11 points and six rebounds with three blocks.

But this was a case of everyone clicking. Sean McNeil came off the bench and scored eight points as he found the range from the outside.

“When he’s making shots we’re a different team,” Huggins said.

Jermaine Haley and Miles “Deuce” McBride each scored 11 points and Culver, Tshiebwe, Haley and McBride combined to make 19-of-26 shots, 73 percent.

WVU went to 14-2, 3-1 in the conference.

With the students now back in town, Huggins wanted to make sure they would have a loud, wild crowd, so he spent some time at the Mountainlair talking with them. According to a Tweet by former TV sports anchor Geoff Coyle, “Huggins told the students to run down their hallway, banging on door ‘yell and scream and tell them to get their butts out there tonight.’”

And come they did to see what certainly is looking more and more like one of the best — and most unique — teams in America.

TCU has presented problems for the teams it has faced, leading the Big 12 in 3-point shots made.

“It’s kind of like football. Everyone is spreading you out,” Huggins said.

But his defense has smothered 3-point shooters all year and one reason is because of Culver’s unique ability to stand 6-foot, 10-inches tall but guard smaller men on the perimeter.

“I had Kenyon Martin who could do that. He had great feet. When I put him on perimeter guys it was like the blind was drawn down on them,” Huggins said, referring to the best player he ever coached at Cincinnati.

But there aren’t many like that.

And if Culver is a nightmare on defense, he’s equally as scary on offense, a big time offensive rebounder to go with Tshiebwe and a challenge to guard down low due to his ability to score and pass.

Put it all together and the Horned Frogs were having a big problem on offense while the Mountaineers were running players in and out of the game, playing 12 in the half and getting production from them all.

Again, the bench production was big. Brandon Knapper came in and scored five straight points to ignite a 14-0 run that broke the game open. He had the usual help from McBride and Chase Harler.

But the most interesting aspect of the half was provided by McNeil, who has had some struggles lately.

The top junior college scorer last year came off the bench, missed two open 3s immediately and then committed a foul heading into a timeout. Huggins stuck with him, though, and all of a sudden he found his stroke. He hit consecutive 3s and another basket and went into halftime as WVU’s top scorer with eight points.

TCU had a glimmer of hope as the second half opened and it hit four of their first five 3s, but WVU was relentless as they pounded it inside to Culver and Tshiebwe.

It didn’t seem to matter who threw it up there for WVU, it was going in.

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