The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 20, 2013

WVU basketball faces surprisingly tough test tonight against Eagles

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

BECKLEY — Georgia Southern was supposed to be a tune-up. Picked to finish ninth in the 11-team Southern Conference, the Eagles, coming off a 14-19 finish last season, didn’t have a single player on the 10-man preseason all-conference team. Their visit to the WVU Coliseum tonight at 7 p.m., as part of the Cancun Challenge, was set up to be an appetizer for the more marquee games the Mountaineers (2-1) will play in Playa del Carmen, Mexico next week against Old Dominion and either Wisconsin or Saint Louis.

But the team that makes the trip to Morgantown tonight won’t be a pushover. Just ask Miami.

The Eagles (2-1) recently took the Hurricanes to overtime on Miami’s home floor before falling 81-80. That game was sandwiched between a 110-74 win over Columbia International and a 104-50 pounding of Toccoa Falls.

GSU now has WVU’s full attention.

“They’re a guard oriented team,” said WVU junior point guard Juwan Staten, who’s averaging 20 points and 7.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds coming into tonight’s game, which will air live on ROOT Sports. “They play fast, set a lot of screens and shoot a lot of 3s. That’s not too different from the teams we’ve faced this year. It’s another game to get us prepared for Big 12 play.”

Junior guard Jelani Hewitt, who hails from a place Mountaineer fans know well, Miramar, Fla., is averaging 25 points, six assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. Senior Tre Bussey is also a major backcourt weapon, scoring 24.5 points and pulling down six rebounds per contest.

“Hewitt’s really good at getting his own shot, and he’s got great range,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins, whose team beat Mount St. Mary’s and Duquesne but blew a 17-point lead on the road against Virginia Tech in between. “He’s made some really long ones, and he’s played well against good people.

“Bussey is solid. I think he’d rather drive it than shoot it, but he’s very capable of shooting it.”

The GSU offense is a dangerous one for a Mountaineer team that is allowing 77 points per game, but WVU does have an offense to keep pace, averaging 85 points per outing behind the play of Staten and sophomore guard Erin Harris, who’s averaging 22.7 points and 2.3 assists.

“We’re definitely scoring the ball better, but we need to pick up our defense,” said Staten. “We’re allowing teams to score too many points.”

“We don’t play through plays,” added Huggins, who’s looking to quickly erase the memory of last year’s 13-19 finish, just the third losing season of his long career. “We play pretty hard and then figure it’s time for a rest. We get ourselves out of position. Some of it is that we get tired, and some of it is that we lose focus and concentration.”

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Former Greenbrier East point guard Bryce Woodliff is a freshman walk-on for GSU, but he’s using this season to redshirt and won’t see action tonight.

Beckley native Jason Slay was there as the director of basketball operations for about three months, helping to bring Woodliff to Statesboro, Ga., before leaving in October to take an assistant coaching position at Tennessee State.

— E-mail: chuffman and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.