WVU weathers storm to down Monmouth, 64-54
With a new look squad entering this year, many fans expected the season opener to be chalk full of surprises. However, few expected the major surprise Friday night to be in the form of a scare at the hands of the Monmouth Hawks.
Shooting a mere 26.1-percent from the field, the West Virginia Mountaineers weathered a second half deficit from the Hawks to pull away late with a 64-54 victory.
Early on it was a struggle for West Virginia to gain any offensive momentum. A three pointer by Daxter Miles to open up play ignited the crowd initially, but the Mountaineers seemed to level off, playing against a scrappy defensive squad in Monmouth.
A signature step-up jumper from inside the arc for Juwan Staten would tack two more points on the board, but a trio of easy layups for the Hawks gave them a 6-5 advantage at the first media timeout.
This lackluster offensive output for the Mountaineers continued exiting the timeout, forcing Coach Bob Huggins to make some quick adjustments. In an effort to spark a little outside game, Chase Connor and Nathan Adrian were inserted into the lineup with the Mountaineers staring down at an 8-7 deficit.
The West Virginia-home grown duo would make an immediate impact for the Mountaineers, with a three pointer from Adrian and mid range jumper for Connor putting the home team ahead 12-8.
That spark would be short lived, however, with the Hawks roaring back on defense. Playing a tight zone look, the Mountaineers could not settle down into an offensive set, tightening the game once again.
Huggins would make a full line change, inserting five new bodies shortly before the media timeout. This would stall the bleeding, helping West Virginia hold a 13-11 advantage with 10:38 left in the half.
A brief timeout would do little to halt the offensive struggles for the Mountaineers, with a pair of free throws being the only points scored in the ensuing three-minute span. West Virginia went 0-8 from the field between media breaks, but managed to maintain a 15-14 lead over Monmouth with 7:46 remaining in the half.
The offense would continue to slug through the half, with a few bright spots here and there giving West Virginia hope for a boost. A three pointer for Staten from the top of the arc, thanks to a strong assist from Elijah Macon in the paint, pushed the Mountaineers ahead by six points with five minutes remaining.
But beyond the Staten basket, the West Virginia offense continued to fall short. A pair of layups from Chris Brady and Josh James for Monmouth helped keep the Hawks close, with the Mountaineers clinching onto a 20-18 advantage with 3:58 remaining in the half.
Monmouth would do everything in its power to keep the upset bid alive, forcing West Virginia into difficult shot attempts and denying anything in the paint. This, coupled with a strong combo of back cuts and drives down the lane, gave the Hawks a 26-21 halftime advantage.
It appeared early in the half that a motivational locker room speech did very little to help spark the non-existent West Virginia offense. The Mountaineers showcased a small glimmer of hope with a Miles three to open play, but the ensuing three minute span spelled nothing but trouble for the home squad.
A 9-0 run by the Hawks, ending with a wide open three from Justin Robinson, put the Monmouth lead into double digits, up 35-23 with just under 18 minutes remaining. With these struggles Coach Huggins had seen enough, calling a rallying timeout with 17:44 left in the contest.
West Virginia would cut the deficit back into single digits after a hard-fought sequence around the 13-minute mark. With time running off the shot clock, a contested three from Jaysean Paige put a little spark into the Mountaineer bench.
To capitalize from this, Huggins called upon the full court press yet again, with a steal and layup from Gary Browne giving West Virginia a quick five-point spurt.
The sequence brought the Mountaineers within eight points of the Hawks, down 41-33 entering the under 12-minute media timeout.
West Virginia looked to parlay its mini-spurt into more momentum exiting the timeout, with a put back layup from Macon bring the Mountaineers back to within six.
But it would continue to be a struggle for West Virginia to find any resemblance of offensive success. Relying on halfcourt offense, the Mountaineers could not find many open looks from the field, and even when they were present struggled to complete.
With 7:36 remaining, West Virginia trailed 45-36, shooting a mere 20.7-percent from the field in the process.
The offensive spark the Mountaineers needed might have come in the form of sophomore walk-on Chase Connor. Exiting the timeout, the Shady Spring, WV native connected with a fall-away three pointer from the corner to cut the deficit to seven.
Connor's three seemed to bring some emotion and drive back into the West Virginia offense. A pair of free throws from Devin Williams, followed on the ensuing possession by an offensive rebound and relay pass from Staten gave a wide open Browne an easy shot from beyond the arc.
Browne would connect with the three, putting West Virginia within a possession of the Hawks. With 5:32 remaining the Mountaineers only trailed 46-44.
West Virginia would continue to chip away at the deficit from the line, with a pair of free throws from Williams putting the Mountaineers down by a point. With two Hawks players fouling out as well, the momentum in the Coliseum shifted in West Virginia's favor.
The charity stripe would continue to be West Virginia's friend, with a pair of baskets from Staten shortly following to give the Mountaineers a 49-48 advantage. With 4:41 to play West Virginia would get its first lead of the half.
With momentum on their side, West Virginia finally managed to put its season opener in the bag. Continuing to relying on production from the free throw line late, a pair of layups from Williams and Staten helped boost this surge, giving the Mountaineers a 57-52 advantage with 2:24 to play.
For Monmouth, the West Virginia depth would be too much. With three players fouling out, the Mountaineers would overpower the Hawks in the closing minutes.
A monster dunk followed by an and-1 from Williams would be the nail in Monmouth's coffin, sealing the victory for West Virginia.
Final: West Virginia 64, Monmouth 54.
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