By Cam Huffman
Two weeks ago, West Virginia’s men’s basketball team was 1-3 and searching for answers. It had been blown out in its season opener against Gonzaga, 84-50, and then, after beating Marist (87-44) for its first win of the season at the Old Spice Classic in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., dropped the final two games of that tournament to Davidson (63-60) and Oklahoma (77-70) to sit at 1-3.
The Mountaineers couldn’t shoot, their defense wasn’t performing up to standards and they looked as though they had little leadership.
Heading into tonight’s 7 p.m. contest at Duquesne, a game that will be aired live on CBS Sports Network, is a very different WVU team. The Mountaineers have won three in a row — knocking off VMI (94-69), Marshall (69-59) and Virginia Tech (68-67) — and they’re playing with confidence after taking out two rivals in back-to-back games, the most recent one against a previously undefeated Hokie club.
LaSalle transfer Aaric Murray was named the Big 12 Rookie of the Week, after averaging 11 points and 8.5 rebounds against Marshall and Virginia Tech, and head coach Bob Huggins has found a new weapon in Kevin Noreen, who scored inside and out against the Hokies, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds off the bench.
NBC Sports’ College Basketball Talk website even named the Mountaineers its Team of the Week.
“I think we’re rebounding the ball better, we’re defending better and we’re at least making an effort to run offense now,” said Huggins. “There’s really not a lot of experience with the way we play. We’re playing a lot of guys who don’t have much experience.”
It’s the type of progress WVU fans have grown to expect since Huggins came back home to take over at his alma mater in 2007, but Huggins knows it’s also the type of run that can end just as quickly as it began if his Mountaineers don’t continue to work.
“We just have to keep shooting the ball,” he said, pointing to the ability to make shots as the team’s biggest problems. “We’ve shot the ball a lot in practice. Some of the guys who are struggling to make shots have shot it very well in practice. We’ve just got to continue to shoot the ball. They’re going to start going in, and then we’ll get some confidence.”
Atlantic 10 member Duquesne is 5-4 on the season with wins over James Madison, Youngstown State, Appalachian State, Maine and New Orleans and losses to Albany, Georgetown, North Dakota State and Pitt.
The Dukes, under first-year head coach Jim Ferry, have won four of their last five after a 1-3 start, the only loss in the recent run coming at the hands of city rival Pitt.
Senior guard Sean Johnson leads the team with 12.9 points per game, and he’s also pulling down almost five rebounds and dishing out a pair of assists per outing. Freshman Derrick Colter is the only other player averaging in double figures, scoring 10.4 points to go along with 4.7 assists per game.
Today’s game will mark a strange homecoming for WVU assistant Ron Everhart. The Fairmont native was the head coach of the Dukes for the last six seasons before being let go. He had posted a 99-89 record at Duquesne, taking the team to the NIT in 2009 and the CBI in 2010 and 2011.
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