Led by strong performances from Eron Harris and Juwan Staten, the West Virginia Mountaineers returned to the WVU Coliseum Sunday afternoon with a 96-83 victory over the Duquesne Dukes, extracting revenge from last season's upset loss in Pittsburgh.
Early on in the contest it looked as though the Dukes would attempt to draw off of memories from last season's upset. Taking advantage of their quick, shifty talent, Duquesne managed to get the ball into the hands of Jeremiah Jones and Ovie Soko on the high post, allowing the duo to utilize their speed to penetrate through West Virginia's man defense for a pair of easy layups.
But the Mountaineers had some unheralded offensive weapons of its own that would put on full display heading into the first media timeout. True freshman forward Devin Williams, who has been touted as West Virginia's most promising post-threat this season, showcased his offensive versatility early on Sunday.
In the game's first four minutes, the freshman equaled his offensive output from Tuesday's loss to Virginia Tech, scoring six points. Four of which would come from a pair of midrange shots, showing the shooting capabilities the big man can bring to the court this season.
A couple strong drives by Juwan Staten would help contribute to West Virginia's opener, but the Dukes would not be fazed. A three pointer by Micah Mason and an "and-1" opportunity by Desmond Ridenour tied the game at 12 heading into the first media break.
When the teams returned to the court following the brief hiatus, the Dukes would continue to pound into the Mountaineers offensively in an attempt to gain the early momentum. A midrange jumper by Dominique McKoy, off the Darius Lewis steal and relay pass, gave Duquesne a 14-12 advantage five minutes into the game.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers found themselves unable to get into any offensive rhythm. For about a four-minute span, after opening up to an 8-4 lead, West Virginia would not connect with a field goal, allowing Duquesne to jump into a 16-12 lead.
But once the shots began to fall, West Virginia found its way back into the lead. Although Duquesne held the Mountaineers to a rough offensive stretch, they were unable to take full advantage. Only a dunk by Soko kept the Dukes on top during West Virginia's drought.
Continuing his hot-shooting streak this season, Nathan Adrian would halt the bleeding with a quick corner three, tying the game at 16. A long jumper from Eron Harris on the ensuing possession would then allow the Mountaineers to regain the lead at 18-16, heading into the second media timeout.
Exiting the timeout, Harris picked up right where he left off. The sophomore guard snatched down a missed Duquesne free throw before connecting with his first three of the game on the other end of the court.
And from here, West Virginia would proceed to find its offensive chops for the first time in the afternoon. Harris backed up his three pointer on the ensuing possession, finding a lane into the paint and connecting with an up-and-under layup for his tenth point of the day.
Not wanting to miss out on the fun, junior Remi Dibo, coming off a 17-point performance against Virginia Tech, picked up where he left off with another step-back trifecta to give the Mountaineers a 26-19 advantage.
Duquesne's Mason would answer Dibo's three on the opposite end of the court, connecting with his second of the day, but that would not halt the Mountaineer's hot shooting.
On the two subsequent offensive possessions for West Virginia, Harris and Terry Henderson would knock down their own three-point attempts, giving the Mountaineers a 32-24 lead heading into the under 8:00 timeout.
Coming out of the timeout, Duquesne switched its defensive focus into a 2-3 zone, looking to break up the Mountaineer's shot opportunities. Early on in this stretch, it appeared that this strategy might prove effective.
Continuing to take advantage of West Virginia's struggles in the paint, the Dukes' Mason managed to sneak around Harris on a long rebound, swiping the ball from the guard and taking it coast-to-coast for a layup. Coupled with a pair of free throws from L.G. Gill and the Dukes cut into the Mountaineer's lead quickly, 32-29.
But that small spurt would do nothing but ignite the Mountaineers offensively. After Duquesne got to within three, West Virginia would go on an 8-0 run, highlighted by another three from Harris and second-chance basket from freshman Brandon Watkins, to take a nine-point lead into the final media timeout of the half.
While the Mountaineers seemed to find offensive success all-around in the first half, the efforts of Staten were perhaps the most unheralded. After struggling last season to find consistency on offense while fitting into a traditional point guard role, the junior appeared to display none of those faults in the first half.
Staten entered the locker room with an extremely balanced box score, contributing 14 points and five assists to help give West Virginia the halftime advantage.
Meanwhile, the Dukes fluctuated between a single and double-digit deficit in the final three minutes of the half. A layup by Staten gave the Mountaineers a 14-point advantage with two minutes remaining in the half, before Duquesne found the momentum for one final run.
Relying on the shooting of Mason, who would enter the locker room with 12 points on the afternoon, the Dukes would rally back. A four-point play by Mason, off a Dibo foul during his three-point attempt, sent the Dukes into the locker room on a 10-2 run, putting them down a mere six points. West Virginia still maintained a 49-43 halftime advantage.
Exiting the locker room, it appeared that Duquesne would pick up right where they left off offensively. On their first offensive possession, the Dukes guard Ridenour would continue to chip away at West Virginia's once-impressive lead. A three pointer by the guard put the game to within one possession, with the Mountaineers leading by a mere three points.
From here, both teams would seemingly swap baskets on each end of the court for three minutes until Coach Huggins called a timeout to regroup his squad.
Staten continued to carry the banner for West Virginia offensively exiting the timeout, scoring six points in the first four minutes of the half, including a long step-back jumper, to push West Virginia's lead forward. The Mountaineers entered the first media break with a 59-54 lead.
Although Huggins tried to motivate the Mountaineers in a pair of early half timeouts, the Dukes continued to look strong. On the second Duquesne possession exiting the media timeout, Mason would tie the ballgame at 59 with his fourth three of the night.
At this point in the contest, Mason had rather extraordinary shooting stats, boasting a 5-5 from the field, with 4-4 of those coming from three. This shooting helped to contribute to Duquesne's comeback run.
The Mountaineers, however, would continue to answer the Dukes on every possible opportunity. Merely seconds after tying the game, Harris put the Mountaineers up by three yet again with his fourth three pointer of the game.
Harris' three broke a 7-0 run by the Dukes and sent West Virginia into a 6-0 advantage of its own. A turnaround layup by Williams and free throw from Henderson put the Mountaineers ahead yet again with a 65-59 advantage.
Tuesday's offensive showcase continued between the two teams with West Virginia breaking 70 points before the midway point in the half, thanks to another long jumper from Staten and goaltend for Harris. The pair of baskets put the Mountaineers up 71-64.
Defensively, both teams would continue to struggle stopping one another. Whether it was in a fast break or set defense, neither team seemed to have a defensive answer over the other.
The Mountaineers proved this fact once again off a Duquesne turnover. With the strip, Adrian would pick up a loose ball shrouded by a pair of Duke defenders. The freshmen escaped the pressure, relayed the pass to Staten at half court, who would drive for what would seem to be an easy layup.
However, the junior clanked the floater off the front iron. Fortunately for the Mountaineers, Harris was trailing the fast break, catching the board in midair with one hand and putting in back for two. The score extended West Virginia's lead to 71-64.
Duquesne would put together another mini-run over the Mountaineers, cutting into the deficit slightly, entering the under 8:00 media timeout down 75-70.
Exiting the timeout it appeared that a switch had briefly flipped. While neither team seemed to miss a shot through the half, both the Mountaineers and Dukes combined for a two-minute scoreless drought.
But with hot shooters such as Harris and Henderson, that drought would not last long. The sophomore guards combined for a pair of threes on consecutive possession to put West Virginia up by 10, 81-71, forcing Duquesne to call a timeout with 5:38 remaining. The three for Harris continued his hot-shooting night, giving him 26 points on the night.
That quick burst was just what the Mountaineers needed to secure the lead. Harris would hit another three exiting the final media timeout, giving West Virginia a 9-0 run and 84-71 lead.
From there West Virginia would continue to pull away, putting the Dukes to bed on both sides of the court in the final three minutes en route to victory.
Final: West Virginia 96, Duquesne 83.
West Virginia was led in scoring by Eron Harris, contributing with a career-high 33 points. Juwan Staten also proved to be a vital offensive weapon, adding on 28 points and nine assists. Freshman Devin Williams would close out double-digit scorers for West Virginia, scoring a career-high 18 points, 10 rebounds.
The Mountaineers will return to action this Thursday when they take on Presbyterian. Tipoff is at 7pm.