By Cam Huffman
BLACKSBURG, Va. —
Ahead 29-12 with 8:21 left in the first half Tuesday afternoon at Virginia Tech, West Virginia looked like a different team than the one that went 13-19 a year ago. But as the Mountaineers walked off the court as 87-82 losers, they were reminded that there’s still a long way to go.
WVU (1-1) saw its 17-point first-half lead trimmed to 5 by halftime, fell behind by as many as 10 in the second half and then couldn’t complete a late charge, losing to a Hokie team that was coming off a loss to USC Upstate as part of ESPN’s 24 Hours of Basketball.
“I have a whole bunch of freshmen that don’t understand how hard you have to play,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins, visibly upset after one he felt his team gave away. “We stopped guarding and we started standing up. They have to learn that they can’t do that.
“It’s like kids. You can tell them what’s going to happen, but they don’t learn until they make the mistakes themselves.”
Ahead 83-82 after a 3-point strike from WVU’s Remi Dibo — who scored a team-high 17 points on the strength of five long bombs — cut the lead to 1 with 22 seconds left to play, the Hokies (1-1) converted a pair of Adam Smith free throws to stretch their lead to 3.
WVU got the ball back with 16 seconds and a chance to tie, but freshman Nathan Adrian’s contested 3-pointer never had a chance, and Devin Wilson sunk a pair of free throws at the other end to close the deal on Tech’s first win over the Mountaineers since 2004, the last time the teams met in Cassel Coliseum.
The Hokies took advantage of the 53 total fouls called in the game, making 30 of 38 free throw attempts for some easy points. The Mountaineers made just 21 of 33 at the line, including an 8 for 14 mark in the second half.
“We should be an 80 percent free throw team,” said Huggins, who added that his team had put itself in a hole with a tough early loss with some better opponents ahead. “The guys who were getting to the line are pretty good free throw shooters. But they missed them, too.”
Tech got the job done with good shooting and a strong inside presence. The Hokies shot better than 60 percent in the second half and got 35 points in the paint, compared to just 22 for WVU. Many of those came on drives to the basket, as starting guards Smith and Wilson combined for 35 points and were a combined 11 for 11 at the free throw line.
“We had the lead the whole time,” said junior guard Gary Browne, who came off the bench to score 15 points, grab four rebounds and dish out a pair of assists. “We just lost to ourself. I don’t think they did anything to beat us. We just didn’t rebound, and we didn’t get back defensively.
“They have three or four guys who can make shots, and they made those shots in transition.”
WVU tried to get into the paint, as well, but finishing was the problem. The Hokies were able to defend the rim without picking up as many fouls, and they blocked 13 shots, compared to just one for the Mountaineers. Cadarian Raines led the way with five blocks.
“We don’t have guys who can block shots,” said Huggins. “So they don’t see that in practice. This was the first time they’ve played against that.”
The Mountaineers were looking not just for easy baskets on those drives, but also whistles, and often they didn’t come.
“We weren’t really getting the shots we expected,” said junior point guard Juwan Staten, who scored 10 points and pulled down nine boards, but was just 3 of 12 from the field. “We’re just going to have to adjust to it.”
There were some bright spots for a young WVU team, especially early. Dibo, a junior college transfer, who played under Rodney Crawford at Mountain State Academy, showed some promise. In his first significant action of the season, the 6-foot-7 forward showed the ability to knock down outside shots, forcing the Hokie defenders out on the perimeter and opening up the paint. He also grabbed a couple of rebounds.
Eron Harris scored 16 points, but struggled to make the easy shots, going 4 of 17 from the field. Browne showed he was healthy and played more like he did in a promising freshman season than the frustrating 2012-13 campaign. Adrian scored eight points and knocked down a couple of clutch 3s, before missing the big one late.
“We’re going to get better,” said Huggins. “We’re going to keep improving as the season goes on.”
WVU, which still holds a 47-30 lead in the all-time series with the Hokies, was 11 for 24 from 3-point range, but it was the easy shots that cost the Mountaineers. As a team, they missed 25 layups. That, combined with the struggles at the charity stripe, is what concerned Huggins the most.
“We missed about 110 layups,” he said, attributing much of Tech’s 33-5 run — which turned a 40-22 WVU advantage with 2:54 to play in the opening half into a 55-45 Hokie lead with 14:33 to play in the game — to his team’s own struggles. “We’ve got to be able to overcome guys having bad games. We just have to eliminate the stupid mistakes. We need to be able to win and still learn. Why do we have to lose to learn?”
The Mountaineers will return to the floor Sunday, taking on Duquesne at 4 p.m. at the WVU Coliseum.
— E-mail: chuffman@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
VIRGINIA TECH 87, WEST VIRGINIA 82
WEST VIRGINIA (1-1)
Harris 4-17 7-9 16, Noreen 2-2 2-4 6, Williams 1-8 4-8 6, Adrian 3-8 0-0 8, Staten 3-12 4-7 10, Watkins 1-2 0-0 2, Henderson 1-3 0-0 2, Dibo 5-10 2-2 17, Browne 5-8 2-3 15. Totals 25-70 21-33 82.
VIRGINIA TECH (1-1)
Wood 1-5 2-2 4, Eddie 3-8 4-5 10, Wilson 4-7 8-8 16, Raines 1-2 2-2 4, Smith 7-12 3-3 19, Beyer 1-1 1-2 3, Van Zegeren 0-2 2-2 2, Johnston 0-0 0-0 0, Thompson 2-4 3-8 7, Emelogu 7-16 5-6 22. Totals 26-57 30-38 87.
Halftime—West Virginia 41-36. 3-Point Goals—West Virginia 11-24 (Dibo 5-9, Browne 3-4, Adrian 2-6, Harris 1-3, Henderson 0-2), Virginia Tech 5-15 (Emelogu 3-6, Smith 2-5, Eddie 0-1, Wilson 0-1, Wood 0-2). Fouled Out—Dibo, Van Zegeren, Williams. Rebounds—West Virginia 43 (Williams 11), Virginia Tech 43 (Emelogu, Wood 6). Assists—West Virginia 14 (Staten 7), Virginia Tech 7 (Wilson 4). Total Fouls—West Virginia 28, Virginia Tech 25. A—5,049.