In their last game before a short Christmas break, the West Virginia Mountaineers continued to look for consistency but managed to pull off a 72-62 win over the Radford Highlanders Saturday afternoon in Morgantown.
It was a difficult start for West Virginia, however, against their pesky Big South foe. The Mountaineers failed to establish any offensive production throughout the first three minutes of the contest, getting only two points from a Deniz Kilicli hook, his first basket in three games.
Meanwhile, the Highlanders started off strong on both sides of the ball, smothering West Virginia shooters and attacking the Mountaineers in transition with up-tempo play. A fadeaway jumper from Radford's Javonte Green, his second basket of the day, gave the Higlanders a 7-2 lead.
But the Mountaineers would mount a slight comeback prior to the first media timeout, getting another post look from Kilicli for two and a made three pointer by freshman Eron Harris to tie the game at seven.
The comeback would be short, however, as the Mountaineers would continue to struggle against the Highlanders. Inconsistent defense and sloppy offense continued to frustrate Head Coach Bob Huggins, who would earn a technical foul from the officials.
Radford, on the other hand, would continue to take advantage of West Virginia's miscues, connecting on a number of shots, including a three by freshman Lucas Dyer following Huggins' technical, to pull ahead 11-9 at the under 12:00 media timeout.
And the struggles would continue for the Mountaineers. Coming out of the media timeout, an errant pass from Harris to Aaric Murray would be intercepted in the front court by Radford's Green. The guard would proceed go coast-to-coast for the slam, extending Radford's lead, 13-9.
But West Virginia would find a sliver of offensive success from Matt Humphrey. Following the fast break, Huggins would call a timeout to sub in the senior transfer. Right out of the break, Humphrey would nail a key three pointer early in the shot clock to close the gap to one, 13-12.
Momentum would swing both ways, with both teams swapping the lead on multiple occasions prior to the final media timeout of the half.
But while the performance was ugly for both teams, the Mountaineers found their closest thing to a consistent threat in Murray. The junior transfer from La Salle would hit a mid-range, second-chance jumper, and quickly following it up with a strong layup in the post, to push West Virginia into a 21-19 lead with just under four minutes remaining in the half.
The strong play from Murray would continue out of the media timeout, when the post man would finally utilize his distinct height advantage to continue attacking the post. The junior would force his way through the post for a layup to extend West Virginia's lead, 23-19.
But even with a height advantage in the post, the Mountaineers would fail to significantly extend their lead against the Highlanders. Offensive success would come from Terry Henderson and Dominique Rutledge, with the freshman in particular hitting a three pointer and connecting on a backdoor slam, to give West Virginia a 31-27 lead at halftime.
Coming out of the half, it appeared that Juwan Staten would attempt to place the offensive burden square on his shoulders. Getting good dribble-drive penetration, the sophomore transfer would drive the ball in the paint for an early layup to extend West Virginia's lead to six, 33-27.
From here, Staten would continue to try and create offense for the Mountaineers, penetrating and driving into a crowded lane on the next three possessions with - other than a foul that would send him to the line for two - little success.
The Highlanders would also push for offense for a single source, but with a name quite familiar to Mountaineer fans.
Radford forward Kyle Noreen, brother of West Virginia's Kevin Noreen, would get five quick points for the Highlanders - one three and a fast-break layup off a steal - to close the gap to within two, 39-37.
The quick strike from Kyle Noreen would shift the momentum away from an individual team, as the Mountaineers and Highlanders would continue to swap the lead over the ensuing four minutes.
West Virginia would continue to find a bulk of its offense in the paint through Murray, who contributed four quick points down low to give the Mountaineers a 48-47 lead with just under ten minutes remaining.
A jumper by Radford's Kion Brown would give Radford a 49-48 lead, before a shift in strategy for the Mountaineers kicked the game into high gear.
With a switch to the 1-3-1 on defense, the Mountaineers would create three-straight turnovers, smothering the Highlander's ball-handlers into miscues and taking full advantage with a 7-0 run, pushing West Virginia to a 55-49 lead at the media timeout.
The run would continue out of the timeout, helping the Mountaineers gain their largest lead of the game - ten points - after a Staten layup with five minutes remaining in the contest.
From here, the Mountaineers would continue to extend the lead as Radford showed signs of waning. A drive by Gary Browne from the corner for two would further extend West Virginia's lead to 13 points at the game's final media timeout.
Radford would go on a slight run near the end of the game, pushing the gap to within single-digits, but it would ultimately be all for naught.
Final score: West Virginia 72, Radford 62.
Aaric Murray led the Mountaineers in the box score, recording 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Behind Murray, the scoring became more spread out for the Mountaineers, as 10 players recorded points in Saturday's win, including Gary Browne with nine points; Dominique Rutledge with eight points, eight rebounds; Juwan Staten with eight; Eron Harris with seven; Terry Henderson with six; Deniz Kilicli with five; Matt Humphrey with three; Jabarie Hinds with two; and Keaton Miles with one point.
The Mountaineers will take the next few days off for the holidays before returning to Morgantown next Sunday, December 30, to take on Eastern Kentucky. Tip off is at 4pm.