MORGANTOWN -- In a purely basketball sense, West Virginia didn't gain a lot from Saturday's 84-64 rout of outmanned Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.In terms of object lessons, though, the Mountaineers hit the jackpot.West Virginia's core of Kevin Jones, Deniz Kilicli and Truck Bryant were virtual no-shows for one reason or another in the first half, so coach Bob Huggins used the opportunity to show them and everyone else -- those on the roster and the 7,226 who showed up to watch the game at the Coliseum -- the ramifications.It was not pretty at times, but against the Islanders it didn't have to be."It's up to me and Truck and Deniz to lead these guys, to be leaders and to show the way,'' Jones said. "We didn't do a good job of that today. We'll do a better job on Monday.''That's when the Mountaineers face what figures to be another outmanned opponent in Tennessee Tech. Saturday's game and the one Monday night are a part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic, which doesn't really get amped up until the teams go to Las Vegas Thursday and Friday and WVU faces Missouri State and No. 6 Baylor.The issues Saturday against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi were varied. Jones picked up two early fouls and sat the final 14 minutes of the first half. Bryant was simply out of sync. WVU only five of its first 14 shots, but Bryant was responsible for four of the bricks and had a pair of turnovers.And Kilicli? Well, he turned the ball over the first two times he touched it and was pulled in favor of Kevin Noreen less than 41/2 minutes into the game. He wouldn't return until after the first media timeout of the second half, a spell that included a fairly animated conversation with Huggins early in the second half.For the record, all three would eventually get into the flow of the game and dominate the second half. Jones scored 18 of his 22 points after the break and Kilicli 11 points, four rebounds and a couple of sledgehammer dunks during that same span. West Virginia's lead fluctuated from 13 to 20 points most of that second half and the outcome was never in doubt as the Mountaineers improved to 7-2.But what West Virginia will likely take from this one is not what happened in the second half, but rather the first. With those three essentially non-factors, the remaining Mountaineers -- all of them but Noreen in their first year in the program -- looked like exactly what they are: talented players who need guidance.
"I suppose it was good and bad,'' Jones said of having to sit and watch a first half in which WVU went one-for-nine from the floor and turned the ball over repeatedly while relying almost exclusively on newcomers over the final seven minutes. "It was good because now they've had a look at what we're like without me and Truck and Deniz on the floor. But it's bad because we need to be out there.''In the absence of those three, a handful of the younger Mountaineers acquitted themselves fairly well, but only in short spurts, although most of the production came later in the game. Noreen, while scoring just four points, had five assists, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. Aaron Brown sank a couple of 3-pointers and finished with eight points, while Jabarie Hinds had six points, four assists and three steals. Gary Browne also had four assists and two steals and even Tommie McCune broke a season-long scoring drought with his first points on a 3-pointer.Still, by the end of the first half, West Virginia had lost most of a lead that had reached nine points and led just 32-28 at the break.And, truth be told, none of that surprised Huggins."I knew we weren't ready to play today,'' Huggins said. "We weren't ready to play in our shoot-around today, so I saw it coming.''
Again, though, it didn't really matter against the Islanders (1-7). When Jones and Kilicli rejoined the group in the second half it was really just a matter of executing simple things like getting the ball to those two inside. At one point they combined to score 19 of the team's 24 points as the lead ballooned from 35-31 to 59-37."That was the plan all along, to just throw it inside because they didn't really have anybody who could guard us,'' Jones said.Of course, in order to throw it inside, Jones and Kilicli had to be on the floor. When they aren't, for whatever reason, things are going to get rough."I think we got the point,'' Kilicli said. "If we play like [the first half], it's not going to work.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org