Ahmad, Konate have career days as WVU beats Valpo 88-76
By JOHN LOWE, Associated Press
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Esa Ahmad and Sagaba Konate lit up in the second half and combined for 56 points to lift West Virginia over feisty Valparaiso 88-76 on Saturday.
After starting the game with only two points, both coming from the foul line, Konate lit up the second half for the Mountaineers (3-2) with a career-high 26 points, including a career-high five three-pointers, and earned a double-double with 10 rebounds.
“Obviously, in the first half we (weren’t) ready to play at all,” Konate said. “The second half was a little bit better.”
Ahmad’s career-high 30 points led West Virginia throughout the game as Valparaiso (3-3) kept the game competitive in the first half, even taking the lead with over five minutes to play in the first half.
Lamont West added 11 points for WVU and had six rebounds of his own. Jermain Haley also grabbed six rebounds.
“We got beat by Western Kentucky because whoever got it, shot it,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “We can’t do that. We run some motion and some curls and things, and (Konate) stepped back and got his shoulders square. He’s worked really hard at that.”
Four Crusaders finished in double figures with Derrik Smits leading with a near-career-high 20 points and seven rebounds.
“We were going to make Konate hit shots and beat us, and he did that,” Valparaiso coach Matt Lottich said. “Bottom line he did that. If he can shoot the ball like that, he presents a real problem for other teams.”
Ryan Fazekas finished with 15 points on the day, including nine from beyond the arc. Markus Golder added 13 points and Bakari Evelyn scored 10.
Valparaiso: The Brown and Gold have failed to close out second half leads in losses to Western Kentucky and Wake Forest. The Crusaders will need to improve its second half offense in order to compete in the Missouri Valley.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers have struggled with cold shooting snaps from the field in the first half against Buffalo, Monmouth, Western Kentucky and Valparaiso (two of those games ended up being losses). Consistent shooting is something that needs to be improved as WVU nears its heavy non-conference schedule with Florida, Pitt and Rhode Island ahead.
West Virginia redshirt freshman Brandon Knapper got his first career start and delivered for the Mountaineers, scoring only two points but grabbed three rebounds and set up seven assists.
“We were counting on Knap more just because at the end of the year he got to play against Dax and JC in practice,” Huggins said. “So, you’d think he’s a little more used to what’s going to come at him than what Jordan would be, for instance, or what Jermaine would be.”
ROAD TESTED IN THE MISSOURI VALLEY
Lottich alluded to the Crusaders’ tough early schedule after the loss to West Virginia.
“I don’t think anyone in our conference has played the schedule that we had,” Lottich said. “Our three losses have come to three pretty good teams. We lost to Western Kentucky, who beat West Virginia, and we played them pretty tight. We lost to West Virginia and we lost to Wake Forest, which is a game I thought we could’ve won.”
He’s arguably right, as the only major game a team from the Missouri Valley has on the road is Indiana State heading to 18th-ranked TCU on Dec. 16.
“We have got to find ways to come into a building like this and win a game,” Lottich said.
Konate’s second half provided a lot of excitement for the fans in Morgantown, but it all came down to a run halfway through the second half.
After Smits hit a layup with 10:19 left to play to cut the Mountaineer lead to 63-61, Konate responded with a three-pointer at the other end of the floor to put West Virginia up five.
After a couple of empty possessions on both sides, Konate made a layup and drew a foul against Evelyn. He sank the free throw and WVU went up eight with 8:47 left. The Crusaders never recovered.
The Crusaders will head to Las Vegas to take on UNLV in the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge on Wednesday.
The Mountaineers will continue their three-game homestand against Rider on Wednesday.