The Associated Press
West Virginia's Eron Harris tips in a basket during the first half Monday.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- That West Virginia beat Loyola of Maryland Monday night at the Coliseum was a surprise to virtually no one. But the extent to which the Mountaineers won and how they did so was rather shocking.They rebounded, made free throws and, at least when the game was semi-competitive, got their big scoring punch from Kevin Noreen.It was strange enough, probably, to send Loyola coach G.G. Smith to his cell phone to call his dad, new Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith, with a revised scouting report."Oh, yeah, he wanted me to call him right away,'' Smith said after his team was eviscerated by the Mountaineers 96-47. "They're going to surprise some people in the Big 12.''
Well, West Virginia certainly surprised a few people Monday night. Although another sparse crowd (just 4,692) watched, what they saw was a team that took almost every ill it suffered through the first seven games of the season - and to an extent all of last season, as well - and turned them into strengths.To date, the Mountaineers had ranked next-to-last in the Big 12 in both rebounding margin and free-throw shooting. Nationally they were No. 222 in rebounding margin and No. 296 in foul shooting.Yet here they were outrebounding Loyola by an almost unfathomable 62-22 and making 19 of 22 free throws.The free-throw numbers actually weren't all that surprising to Bob Huggins, who has maintained all along that his players make at least 100 a day in practice and it was only a matter of time. And at first, Huggins' explanation for how a team can get 62 rebounds was flippant."Miss a lot of shots,'' he said.
But it was obviously more than that."Yeah, obviously when we came back from Cancun I wasn't happy with our rebounding,'' Huggins said. "We emphasized it.''Emphasized it? The Mountaineers' domination on the boards was so complete that they outrebounded the Greyhounds 33-7 on Loyola misses and 29-15 on their own failed shots. And Noreen had perhaps a more pointed explanation."No. 1, we made it our goal,'' he said. "And No. 2, it's get rebounds or else.''
Or else?"Well, coach Huggins has his ways,'' Noreen said.
Whatever the reason, West Virginia not only rebounded and shot free throws, but did just about everything else right as well. What else explains the fact that the Mountaineers led by as many as 51 points and won by 49 even with Eron Harris and Juwan Staten non-scoring factors when the game was being decided?Harris would eventually warm up just a bit and score 14 points, but Staten had just four. Those two, averaging nearly 40 between them, combined for six as WVU was putting the game away by halftime 47-20. Staten would finish with 10 rebounds and six assists, but between them they shot a combined 6 of 23."I thought I was ready to play, but I wasn't,'' said Harris, whose 20.3-point average still leads the Big 12. "But you can't get frustrated. Fortunately we have a team full of scorers.''No one really considers Noreen one of those, but there he was with 13 points and seven rebounds by halftime. His 13 in the first 20 minutes was just one off the fourth-year junior's career high, and even though he went scoreless and had just one rebound in the second half, the damage had already been done."The guy I thought hurt us was Noreen,'' Smith said. "We actually played pretty well against their guards.''But that's all that a Loyola team whose only other loss was by just 10 points at No. 12 Connecticut did right. Dylon Cormier, the No. 2 scorer in the country averaging 28.4 points, had 11 and was the only double-figure scorer for the Greyhounds, who shot 34 percent.
Mountaineers freshman Nathan Adrian had 11 points and nine rebounds, Remi Dibo had 19 points and five 3-pointers and Terry Henderson had 16 points. WVU was 13 of 22 on 3-pointers and shot 43.2 percent overall.BRIEFLY: The crowd of 4,692 was the smallest of the season despite the return of students to classes. As was a crowd of 4,814 at a game against Georgia Southern on Nov. 21, it was the smallest at the Coliseum since 4,323 saw a game against New Hampshire during Christmas break early in WVU's Elite Eight season of 2004-05.Given the level at which the Mountaineers are playing and the quality of the next opponent, that crowd number is likely to change significantly when WVU next plays at home a week from Tuesday against No. 10 Gonzaga.Before the game with Gonzaga next Tuesday, West Virginia has the more immediate task of a road game at Missouri Thursday. That 7 p.m. game on ESPN2 is part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.