The West Virginia Mountaineers returned to the Coliseum court in impressive fashion Thursday night, defeating the Georgia Southern Eagles 101-68 in the opening game of the Cancun Challenge.
On the second offensive possession the Mountaineers would find some life in the paint thanks to Nathan Adrian. The true freshman, who has thrived at times this season from behind the arc, showed his headsy post mentality, driving in from the top of the key to tip in a missed three from Harris.
Adrian would also tally two key blocks in the first 90 seconds of the contest, helping put West Virginia at an early 4-0 advantage.
From here the Mountaineers would look to open up an offensive explosion in the game's first five minutes. A three pointer from Eron Harris and pair of second-chance layups from Kevin Noreen and Devin Williams would help spark an opening 12-0 West Virginia run, but it was the effort of Juwan Staten the truly lit an early fire under the Mountaineers.
With nine points in the first five minutes, Staten tore through the Georgia Southern defensive attack to help give West Virginia an 18-5 advantage at the first media timeout.
The brief break would not slow West Virginia's offensive clinic. Continuing his recent string of success from three, Adrian connected with a wide-open corner jumper right out of the gate to extend the Mountaineer's lead.
Following Adrian's basket, the Eagles would attempt to catch the Mountaineers off-guard defensively with a long relay pass. But Staten, continuing in his role as West Virginia's go-to weapon, intercepted the pass and before getting it to Harris for the easy layup. The sequence extended West Virginia's lead to 23-5.
Georgia Southern would try to find some momentum with a three from Tre Bussey, but it would do little to slow down the hot West Virginia attack. The Mountaineers answered Bussey's three with a trio of their own from Terry Henderson, Gary Browne and Staten, the latter of which connected on his first career three pointer at West Virginia.
Heading into the second media timeout of the half, the Mountaineers maintained a rather comfortable 34-11 advantage.
West Virginia slowed down a bit offensively in the next four-minute span, but the defense made up for the slight lag. Entering Thursday's matchup, Georgia Southern boasted the 15-ranked offense in the country, averaging 92 points-per-game.
With 14 minutes down in the first half, the Mountaineers held the Eagles to a mere 13 points, taking a 30-point advantage into the under 8:00 media timeout.
Georgia Southern would conjure up a touch of that offensive prowess exiting the timeout, hitting back-to-back threes to cut the deficit under 30.
But it would be of little consolation in the grand scheme. A pair of mid-range jumpers from Devin Williams halted the brief offensive spark from the Eagles, widening the gap back to 30 points - 51-21 - with 1:41 left in the half.
Again, Georgia Southern would try to find some positive outlook exiting the final media timeout, turning the offensive pace to 11. A slam-dunk by Eagles center Kameron Dunnican aroused the first bit of excitement from the visiting bench all night.
But like many things in the first half, the Eagle's excitement would be short lived thanks to the one-upmanship of the Mountaineers. A couple possessions later, the Mountaineers would grab a defensive rebound and quickly drive the length of the court. Harris, the ball-handler, drove the lane towards a pair of Georgia State defenders. Instead of going up for the contested layup, Harris lobbed the ball toward flying Henderson, who would finish off the fast break with a quick slam.
The dunk from Henderson capped off a highly impressive first half for the Mountaineers, as the entered the locker room holding a 55-26 lead.
Perhaps it was the rims on the tunnel side of the Coliseum court, because the ball appeared to bounce the Eagles way coming out of halftime. A pair of quick mid-range jumpers for Georgia State clanked the iron but fell, along with a three pointer from Curtis Diamond. The quick seven points gave the Eagles a brief burst of momentum, allowing them to cut into the lead slightly at 59-33.
However, a flagrant foul on Georgia State's Marvin Baynham ended up killing the momentum the Eagles might have gained. A pair of jumpers quickly backed up a pair of free throws from Henderson on consecutive possessions to give the Mountaineers their first offensive burst of the half, going up 65-33 at the first media timeout.
Henderson's hot streak continued coming out of the timeout, connecting with a three pointer to extend his season high scoring mark to 14. But Henderson alone would not be the only Mountaineer to continue this offensive clinic. Back-to-back circus layups from Staten and a three from Gary Browne pushed West Virginia's lead forward, giving them an 81-42 advantage at the under 12:00 media timeout.
From here, the Mountaineers would continue to cruise en route to the easy victory. A three pointer from Remi Dibo, his first of the night, and a nifty behind-the-back pass from Staten to Henderson on a fast break highlighted the next offensive stretch for the Mountaineers to extend the lead, 92-53.
The Eagles would find their offensive burst for the first time in the game following Henderson's slam, going on a 10-2 run heading into the final media timeout. Still, West Virginia held a comfortable lead and would keep the gap around 30 points as they closed out the victory.
Final score: West Virginia 101, Georgia Southern 68.
West Virginia displayed quite the balanced scoring attack against the Eagles, with five players finding themselves in double figures. The team was led in scoring by Juwan Staten with 20 points and Terry Henderson with 16.
The Mountaineers will close out the home portion of the Cancun Challenge Saturday at 1pm against Presbyterian before traveling to Mexico on Sunday.