It had been a week since the last time the Mountaineers played a game, which was a big win against the Miami Hurricanes. Today, they took on the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders in the first game of the Las Vegas Classic at the Coliseum. As most expected, West Virginia defeated the Islanders soundly with the final score, 84-64.
Terence Jones, the Islanders leading scorer coming into today's game, came out strong after drilling two three-pointers to push TA&M-CC to an early 8-2 lead. After Deniz Kilicli scored on a hook shot, Truck Bryant continued his hot shooting, hitting a three to cut the deficit to one.
Kevin Jones picked up his second foul after being called for a block at the 14 minute mark and was forced to head to the bench. This would be the last time he would see the floor in the first half. Aaron Brown came in and did what he has done all season, nailing two shot to give WVU a four-point lead at 17-13.
"Huggs expects us to go out there and lead these guys," Kevin Jones said. "We didn't do a good job of that today. They w weren't focused. Me, Deniz and Truck have to be the leaders and make sure these guys are ready to play every night. We didn't do a good job of that today but we will do a better job of that Monday."
Both teams seemingly traded buckets throughout the middle of the first half. With Jones and Kilicli on the bench and Bryant struggling from the field, the freshmen were stepping up for the Mountaineers. Bryant got his stroke going again after he got a friendly bounce off the front of the rim and in for an NBA range three to extend the WVU lead to 26-17.
The Islanders kept hanging around because the West Virginia offense was having a lot of trouble with their zone defense. TA&M-CC had a 9-4 run to run the WVU lead to 32-28 before halftime as the teams went into the locker room. It was a very sloppy half for Bob Huggins' team with nine turnovers and 13 personal fouls.
It was a very balanced scoring effort for West Virginia in the first half. The two leading scorers at the half were Truck Bryant and Jabarie Hinds with six. Chris Hawkins-Mast led the Islanders with 13, followed by Terence Jones with eight.
As a team, WVU shot 46% in the first half, while TA&M-CC shot 33%. In what many thought would be a huge rebounding advantage for WVU, it did not show in the first half. The Mountaineers only outrebounded the Islanders by two, 18-16.
Bob Huggins tried to send a message to Deniz Kilicli in the first half, benching him in favor of Kevin Noreen and Pat Forsythe after Kilicli had several turnovers to begin the game. Noreen started the second half also.
"I wasn't playing good so Huggs took me out," Deniz Kilicli said. "He said you aren't getting it. Later he saw I got it, and in the second half he said go!I don't listen to the sensory part of Huggs yelling at me. I just get the point, and I move on and try to do what he wants me to. I listen to that."
A rare score by Keaton Miles began the second half for West Virginia. Kevin Jones was sorely missed in the first half, and came out on fire in the second. He scored eight consecutive points for WVU to extend the Mountaineer lead to 43-31.
Kilicli checked back in after the first media timeout. The Kevin Jones show continued, scoring on another easy bucket down-low to extend the lead to 15. Keaton Miles got a steal at the top of the key and threw it down on the other end of the floor with a thunderous dunk. Not to be outdone, Kilicli slammed it home on WVU's next possession. West Virginia was on a 20-7 run at this point pad the lead to 17 from the beginning of the half.
West Virginia would run away with the rest of the game, winning 84-64. After scoring just four in the first half, Kevin Jones finished the night with 22 points and eight rebounds. After being benched in the first half, Deniz Kilicli finished with 13 points and seven rebounds. Truck Bryant also had a good day 14 points and five assists. Chris Hawkins-Mast led the Islanders with 22, followed by Terence Jones with 20.
After shooting 46% in the first half, the Mountaineers finished the afternoon shooitng 55% from the field, while TA&M-CC finished at 43%. WVU ended up outrebounding the Islanders 33-25.
"Sometimes you come out after finals and play really good, and sometimes you don't," Coach Huggins explained. "It is all a mindset. It all comes down to being into it. When you are into it as much as we work on, for instance making rotations; as much as we work on ball movement; as much as we work on screening; as hard as we work on rebounding the ball. It is all a mindset."
West Virginia will play Tennessee Tech at the Coliseum Monday night at 7 p.m.