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December 30, 2012

WVU holds on to 74-67 win over resilient EKU

After a brief Christmas break, the West Virginia Mountaineers returned to action Sunday afternoon at the WVU Coliseum with a 74-67 victory over the Eastern Kentucky Colonels.

It would be a slow start for West Virginia, as the offensive struggles continued for Bob Huggins' young squad. The Mountaineers went 0-5 in the first three minutes before freshman Terry Henderson broke the slump with a layup in transition.

The freshman guard would also add another two points on the subsequent possession, again attacking the outnumbered Colonels in transition with a leaner.

Eastern Kentucky would take full advantage of the Mountaineer's early struggles on offense, beating the home squad back on transition twice to take an early lead. But a powerful post move by Deniz Kilicli inside would tie the game up at six with four minutes down.

The Mountaineers would find an offense coming out of the second media timeout from Gary Browne in a rather unusual manner. The sophomore guard, known more for his outside presence, became the clean-up man for West Virginia, connecting on two second-chance attempts in consecutive possessions, and tacking one another point at the line to boot. The mini-streak by Browne would push the Mountaineers into the lead, 11-6.

It seemed as though the Mountaineers could only score on second chance attempts and fast-break transitions, with Juwan Staten joining Browne with an and-one of his own to push West Virginia's lead to eight.

But the West Virginia offense would prove it was not a one-trick pony coming out of the under 12:00 media timeout, attacking Eastern Kentucky's 2-3 zone defense from beyond the arc. Taking advantage of missed jumpers by the Colonels, the Mountaineers went on an 8-0 run sparked by two straight three pointers from Browne and Eron Harris.

The Colonels would call a timeout following Harris' dagger, as West Virginia extended its lead to 12, but any defensive adjustments proved ineffective in the eyes of Coach Jeff Neubauer. A mere 20-seconds later, the Colonels would be on the bench again following a put-back slam by Keaton Miles off a rebound to give West Virginia a 24-10 lead.

Eastern Kentucky would refuse to lie down quietly, putting together a brief run of their own. A pair of free throws by Corey Walden and open three by Mike DiNunno would help the Colonels briefly cut into the deficit.

But the good vibes would be short-lived for Eastern Kentucky at the hands of Dominique Rutledge. The senior big man provided a solid threat for the Mountaineers on offense and defense, running the court nicely for a slam dunk in transition to end the Colonels short run.

Rutledge would reciprocate on the defensive side as well, running in from the side to swat away an easy Eastern Kentucky layup and keep the score at 27-15 with six minutes remaining in the half.

While the Mountaineers diversified their offense with better shooting and attacks on the post, they still relied on a strong transition game for much of the half. At no time was this more evident than Aaric Murray's transition slam late in the first half.

After recovering a loose rebound, the Mountaineers would drive the court quickly with a three-on-two attack, featuring Harris and Browne up front with Murray trailing. The guards would pass back and forth amongst each other while driving down the court, eventually finding an open Murray bulldozing through the lane for an easy slam.
The transition dunk further extended West Virginia's lead to 15, 31-16, with just over two minutes remaining in the half.

But with a Princeton-style offense he learned under Coach John Beilein, even two minutes is plenty of time for a run. The Colonels cut into West Virginia's lead behind two consecutive Glenn Cosey three pointers, but West Virginia would maintain a strong 35-22 lead heading into halftime.

While West Virginia appeared to have played one of their best halves of basketball this season, the squad came out of the locker room looking a bit sluggish against the quick Eastern Kentucky squad.

Utilizing a barrage of three pointers, the Colonels attacked the Mountaineer defense from beyond the arc and through the lane to close the post-halftime gap.

The Mountaineers were aided by four points from Kilicli - off a layup and the free throw line - and a dribble-drive from Staten, but this would not be enough to counter the Colonel's big run. After an inbounds steal, leading to Cosey three pointer for the Colonels, Huggins called a quick timeout while West Virginia hung onto a 41-35 lead with 15:30 remaining in the game.

Eastern Kentucky would close the gap to as little as five points at the under 12:00 media timeout, connecting on a number of open jumpers and attacking a West Virginia squad in search of a defensive answer.

Meanwhile, the Mountaineers were somewhat able to hang with the Colonels, despite an aggressive defense look from the opponent that smothered West Virginia ball-handlers. The Mountaineers would take advantage of this through the air, with Harris finding an open Staten for an uncontested alley-oop layup to give West Virginia a 54-50 lead.

But Eastern Kentucky remained scrappy. A pair of three pointers from Orlando Williams with just under ten minutes remaining in the game cut West Virginia's once big lead to a single point.

West Virginia would go on a brief run, pushing the lead back up to six point thanks in part to a foul-happy Eastern Kentucky squad. The Colonels remained in foul trouble for much of the second half, keeping an otherwise sluggish West Virginia squad in the contest. With five minutes remaining in the game, 16 of West Virginia's 26 second-half points could be accounted for from the free throw line, compared to only two points of Eastern Kentucky's 41.

After clawing their way back throughout the second half, the Colonels finally broke through on the scoreboard with time running down. A three point jumper from Eastern Kentucky's Ryan Parsons, son of WVU Deputy Athletic Director Mike Parsons, and a pair of free throws by Eric Stutz gave the Colonels a 63-61 lead, their first advantage since the 16 minute mark of the first half.

The Mountaineers would tie the game back up shortly thereafter with a layup from Murray and retake the lead thanks to a string of free throws from an unlikely source - Dominique Rutledge. The senior, who has struggled mightily from the line in his career, went three of four from the line on two consecutive possession to give West Virginia a 66-63 lead with 2:30 remaining.

Free throws continued to be the equalizer for the Mountaineers late in the second half, as West Virginia players hit 9 of 10 shots from the line in the final three minutes of the contest. Despite lackluster defense, the Mountaineers were able to hold Eastern Kentucky in check as the clock ticked down. A blocked three point attempt late led to a transition slam dunk by Miles to seal the deal for West Virginia.

Final score: West Virginia 74, Eastern Kentucky 67.

West Virginia was led in scoring by Gary Browne, who posted a career high 17 points in the victory. Juwan Staten followed closely behind with 15 points, five assists and four rebounds, while Deniz Kilicli also found himself in double figures with 10 points, five rebounds. Aaric Murray also had a strong show, contributing with eight points and 11 rebounds.

The Mountaineers will not play again until Saturday January 5 against Oklahoma in the team's Big 12 conference debut. Tipoff is at 7pm.

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