MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - A fast start propelled by an electric performance from junior guard James “Beetle” Bolden allowed West Virginia to pounce on Youngstown State 106-72, locking up a fourth-straight win for head coach Bob Huggins’ team.
The Mountaineers (5-2) opened the game on a 13-3 run behind eight points from Bolden, who ended the game with 15 points on 6-8 shooting.
They’d then close the half with 11 unanswered points and a 55-37 advantage, their largest lead of the game to that point.
“I just go out there and play my game like I always do: Shoot the shot when I’m open, try to get the other players involved,” said Bolden. “They wouldn’t guard me, so I just let it fly.”
Youngstown State (3-6) had led or tied the score in all five of its previous losses, but couldn’t come close to catching the Mountaineers in the second half. WVU never trailed in the contest, and continued to light up the scoreboard in the second half, shooting 54 percent on the day.
“Our ball movement and our movement in general is all better,” said Huggins. “We were taking hard shots, and we don’t need to take hard shots. We’ve got enough guys who can make shots that we can spread people and get step-in shots.”
Huggins emphasized guarding leading up to this game against YSU. He said he has seen some improvement in the department since the beginning of the season, but added that it still isn’t what he thinks “everyone is used to seeing” from a program known for its defending.
“We’ve just got a long way to go defensively,” said Huggins. “We gotta gang guard more than what we do, and we don’t rotate very well.”
The Mountaineers finished the game with six players in double figures, including a career-high 10 points from redshirt freshman Brandon Knapper. Twelve of the 13 players active for the game scored, helping WVU set a new season high for points in a game.
Bolden recorded 13 of his 15 points in nine minutes in the first half. After missing games against Saint Joseph’s and Valpo and only playing in the first half Wednesday against Rider, he logged 18 minutes Saturday in his longest outing since the loss to Western Kentucky.
Forward Sagaba Konate also tallied 14 points in 17 minutes, going 4-7 from the field. Huggins said he limited minutes for some of his experienced players in order to give more time to newcomers like freshman Jordan McCabe and sophomore Drew Gordon.
“It’s not a matter of managing their minutes because of Sags’ knee or Beetle’s hand. It’s more trying to get those other guys minutes when we can get them minutes,” said Huggins. “Now we’re getting into the rest of the way here; we’re gonna have to play our butts off to win, so obviously those guys are going to play more minutes.”
Senior Esa Ahmad matched Bolden’s team-high 15 points. Garrett Covington scored a game-high 20 points for the Penguins.
The matchup also pitted Huggins against former WVU assistant Jerrod Calhoun, the second-year head coach of the Penguins. Calhoun admitted that he still follows WVU as closely as he can while coaching another Division I team, and believes the Mountaineers will continue to improve this season.
“I could see the team getting better as I watched the tapes,” said Calhoun. “Against Rider, I thought they were better.”
West Virginia travels to Madison Square Garden Dec. 4 for its next contest against Florida, part of the Jimmy V Classic.
- This victory marked win No. 850 for Huggins.
- Huggins is now 2-0 all-time against Calhoun. The Mountaineers bested Calhoun’s Fairmont State team 89-70 in a 2013 exhibition game.
- West Virginia only committed nine turnovers compared to Youngstown State’s 15. The Mountaineers also recorded 20 assists.
- A total of five West Virginia natives played in the game, including Youngstown State redshirt freshman Geoff Hamperian. The University High product scored in the closing minutes of the game. Freshman guard Taevon Horton also appeared for WVU.
- The Mountaineers’ season-high 106 points are their most in a single game since a 111-48 win over Morgan State at home last November.
- West Virginia has scored 88 points or more in each of its last four wins.