WVU grabs Big Monday victory

West Virginia guard Jevon Carter (2) shoots while being defended by TCU guard Alex Robinson (25) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

MORGANTOWN – Playing its 26th game of the season one would think that a head coach would be comfortable with his starting lineup and rotation.

That was not the case Monday night at the Coliseum as veteran head coach Bob Huggins reinserted senior Daxter Miles Jr. into the starting lineup in place of sophomore James ‘Beetle’ Bolden as the No. 20 Mountaineers (18-7, 7-5 Big 12) looked to avoid a season sweep by the visiting Horned Frogs from Texas Christian (17-8, 5-7 Big 12).

However, before five minutes had passed all, but senior Jevon Carter had been replaced as the Mountaineer coaching staff continued to search for consistency on offense and toughness on defense in the Mountaineers’ 82-66 win over the Horned Frogs.

The shake up had some immediate effects as Bolden tallied seven points as WVU took a 21-19 lead with 7:34 showing on the clock and the play of Maciej Bender and Cameron’s Logan Routt allowed the Old Gold and Blue to stiffen up on defense.

Bender, who was relegated to five minutes in WVU’s 88-85 loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday, saw 11 minutes of action in the first half, hauling down a team-high five rebounds while coming up with three steals and one blocked shot.

Routt, who was on the hardwood for the other seven minutes that witnessed Konate on the bench, pulled down a trio of rebounds as the Mountaineers held a 22-12 edge on the board after the first 20 minutes.

WVU’s Sultan of Swat must have gotten the message as he came out for the second half and picked up a pair of blocks and rebounds and tallied his first bucket of the game before heading to the bench for a rest at the 17-minute mark.

In the game’s final half, the native from Mali displayed why he is a future NBA pick, finishing with eight points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and four blocked shots.

More importantly, the message sent by Huggins and his staff to WVU’s players – that hustle and defense were the things he most prized – got through to the Old Gold and Blue as the defense held the Big 12’s leader in field goal percentage (47.4 percent) to only 42.9 percent from the field (24-of-56) and in 3-point field goal percentage (42.3 percent) to only 35.3 (6-of-17) for the game.

Offensively, some familiar names which have been missing over the last couple of games – Teddy Allen and Miles – found their way back into the scoring column.

Allen led the way with 16 points while Miles finished with 13 as the Mountaineers placed four players in double digits. Bolden chipped in 14 and Wesley Harris added 11.

TCU placed three in double figures led by Desmond Bane’s 16. Vlad Brodziansky added 15 and Kouat Noi 12.

“We played much better on defense,” said Huggins. “We didn’t have those run stoppers. We’ve prided ourselves since I came back here on never giving up. We weren’t doing that. Tonight, we did.

“My message to the team was just that, ‘play hard and you’ll stay in the game; don’t and you won’t.”

Now comes the rematch every Mountaineer fan has been awaiting as WVU travels to Lawrence (KS) to take on the 13-time Big 12 champion Kansas Jayhawks at 6 p.m. on Saturday on ESPN.

“Our bench did a good job of keeping in the game while we were able to rest our starters and that was big for us tonight,” continued the coach. “That is what we’ve needed them to do all season and when they do play hard, we are a pretty good team.”

Moundsville native Chase Harler did see action in the first half, going 0-for-1 from the arc in two minutes of action

Contact Jim Butta @ mountaineersman@outlook.com