WVU basketball: Mountaineers survive Eastern Kentucky scare
MORGANTOWN - It was a win that West Virginia men's basketball Coach Bob Huggins didn't seem to enjoy.
The Mountaineers smothered Eastern Kentucky in the first half, but had to hang on in the second to beat the Colonels 74-67 on Sunday at the Coliseum.
As he reviewed the game and looked at the stat sheet, Huggins fumed that the issues he's seen with this team in previous games - mostly the errors and lapses in energy - were still there Sunday.
"It's incredibly frustrating to have to say the same thing day after day after day after day," Huggins said. "It's incredibly frustrating. They just keep doing the same things.
"Do you have kids?" Huggins asked one reporter. "When you do have kids, you'll find out that when you tell him 'stop' for the 74th time, he'll start getting under your skin."
Juwan Staten and Gary Browne led the Mountaineers with 17 points each, combing to make 19 of 20 free throws.
The Colonels erased what was WVU's (7-5) comfortable 13-point halftime lead and, with 4:21 left in the game, took its first lead since leading 6-4. Down 61-58, EKU (10-3) got a 3-pointer from the corner from junior reserve guard Ryan Parsons, son of WVU Deputy Director of Athletics Mike Parsons, to tie the game. Then sophomore forward Eric Stutz hit two free throws to put the Colonels ahead 63-62.
The Mountaineers tied the game again at 63 with Aaric Murray's layup, then used the free throw line to take the lead and keep it. WVU hit nine of its last 10 free throws to win its third straight game.
It was a dramatic swing from the first half, when WVU held EKU to 27.6 percent shooting from the floor, blocked five shots and outscored EKU 18-8 in the paint. The Colonels started the second half hitting six of its first eight shots while WVU could make only three of nine.
After their dismal first-half shooting, the Colonels shot 63 percent from the floor in the second half and 44.6 percent for the game. West Virginia shot just 33.3 percent from the floor in the second half and 40.8 percent for the game.
Browne said the Mountaineers must keep its killer instinct for 40 minutes, especially now that WVU enters conference play in its next game, at home versus Oklahoma on Jan. 5.
"This conference has a lot of good teams," Browne said. "We need every game we have, no matter who it is. Our ranking and our wins and losses aren't that good. We need those games."
EKU Coach Jeff Neubauer's return to the Coliseum was bittersweet at best. An assistant under John Beilein from 2002-05, Neubauer capped his time in Morgantown with WVU's 2005 run to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. Sunday, he watched his Colonels suffer their third loss in four games. But they battled back in a tough environment, thanks in part, he said, to a reliance on ball screens.
"The ball screening was much more effective than trying to run our offense," he said. "We were trying to run our passing offense, our normal offense, and that's hard to do against a Bob Huggins-coached team. He's going to deny and the ball pressure was just too much in the first half."
Murray said WVU's problems in the second half had more to do with defensive breakdowns.
"I think we let up on defense," he said. "In the first half, we were more intense and more into it. In the second half, we kind of like let up and that's when they started to create and make shots."
WVU struggled in the game's opening minutes, but that drought didn't last long. The Mountaineers missed their first five shots while the Colonels reached the hoop with ease. EKU's first three baskets came on a dunk and two layups.
WVU opened up the game with a 14-2 run that turned the Colonels' 4-0 lead into a 14-6 deficit that kept growing as the half progressed. West Virginia seized and maintained the momentum by eliminating the easy looks under the basket.
The Mountaineers blocked five first-half shots and held EKU to just eight baskets in 29 first-half attempts. Three of those baskets came from the 3-point line.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, lived in the paint, scoring 18 first-half points there. WVU led by as many as 16 before halftime and entered the break up 35-22.
EKU's Cosey led all scorers with 21 points, including hitting five of 10 3-point shots. Mike DiNunno and Orlando Williams each scored 10 for the Colonels. Murray led all players with 12 rebounds.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.