Mountaineers Look to Avoid Letdown Against A&M - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Mountaineers Look to Avoid Letdown Against A&M

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Esa Ahmad scores a career-high 27 points in a win over No. 2 Kansas. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle) Esa Ahmad scores a career-high 27 points in a win over No. 2 Kansas. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle)

Now, it’s time for the encore.

This time, West Virginia is hoping it’ll go better than last time.

You see, two weeks ago, the Mountaineers were riding high, just coming off of a 21-point win over the nation’s top-ranked team and garnering all sort of deserved praise from the world of college basketball.

Four days later, they had to claw their way back into a game against a 7-9 team just to pull out a two-point victory. Another four days passed and they gave up a 15-point lead to lost to a different 7-9 team at home in overtime. Three days go by and a 12-point lead vanishes on the road for a second-straight loss. 

So here we are, two weeks after that initial victory, the Mountaineers coming off of another sound defeat of a Top 5 opponent with another seemingly lesser opponent scheduled four days after.

What is the key to maintaining West Virginia’s current level and not dropping more head-scratchers? One sophomore states it quite plainly.

“In Huggs we trust,” WVU forward Esa Ahmad said Tuesday night.

“Just listen to Huggs,” Ahmad continued. “Do what our coaches ask us and believe in one another and we can go as far as we want.”

Huggins hammered home two specific lessons that he hoped his team would take seriously after a quick glance at box scores from games in which West Virginia has come out on the losing end.

“I told them in April, we can’t turn the ball over and we’ve got to make free throws,” Huggins said. “They heard enough about what our problems were, but I don’t know why you have to go through what we’ve gone through the last week or so for it to sink in.”

The Mountaineers continue to lead the nation in turnover margin, but it has taken a hit of late. Through 16 games, Huggins’ team had a margin of 13.6 more turnovers per game that its opponents. In the three games between Baylor and Kansas, the turnover margin was -2.3 per game.

Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas State turned the ball over a total of 44 times, while the Mountaineers gave it back a whopping 51 times over that stretch.

The 13 turnovers forced against Kansas were the second-fewest WVU has had in Big 12 action, but they still won the turnover battle by only giving it away eight times – the fewest since league play began. 

Saturday’s challenge will come in the form of a Texas A&M starting five that features three players listed at 6-foot-9 or taller. One of them, sophomore center Tyler Davis, presents a particularly difficult task as he leads the team in both points (13.7) and rebounds (6.8) per game.

The Aggies use that size to take up the entire width of the court when they go into their zone defense.

“We just have to be smart when making our passes because when they get in that zone, it’s going to be hard just to get looks when they’ve got their arms spread out,” WVU senior forward Brandon Watkins said. “We just have to take our time and be focused and be patient. We all have to hit somebody when it’s time to rebound because they’re all going to go to the glass.”

Unlike most of the teams that WVU would be playing this time of year, there is no familiarity with Texas A&M in this break from Big 12 action. A few players say that they can take some of what they found success in against Baylor, which featured great length and a zone look, but their head coach warns that the Aggies personnel isn’t just long, but it also features “girth” that they haven’t seen outside of perhaps Texas.

Because of the team’s physical makeup, Huggins and the Mountaineers will look to take advantage of A&M’s slow pace of play. West Virginia prides itself on its ability to speed teams up and that will be precisely the way they attack the Aggies.

“When they’re taking the ball out of bounds, make it tough on them to even get in bounds and from there, make it tough to get to half court,” Watkins said. “By then, there’s like 20 seconds left – 18, 19 seconds left – so by then, you’ve got to figure out how to set the offense up and stuff like that. People find that challenging and after a while, it wears on you, you get tired. We’re just going to play our game and hope for our best.”

Tipoff between West Virginia and Texas A&M is set for high noon to start the SEC-Big 12 Challenge on ESPN.

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