There has been no surprise as to where the leadership has come — and will need to come, at least in the first half of the season — for the West Virginia University men’s basketball team. Senior guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. knew the spotlight would shine on them this season. Carter was named to several preseason award watch lists, while Miles is a watch-list member for the Jerry West Award as the nation’s top shooting guard.
There would be times the team needed hoisted onto the duo’s shoulders, and the pair came through Sunday night in West Virginia’s 83-79 win over Missouri in the AdvoCare Invitational finals.
Down 16 with 8 minutes to go, the Mountaineers (6-1), led by Carter and Miles, completed a furious comeback for their sixth straight win. It was enough to push the Mountaineers up four spots to No. 19 in the Associated Press Top 25.
Head coach Bob Huggins said on the radio broadcast following the game how pleased he was to see the two guards handle the burden of leadership.
“What I was really happy about was that I’ve been hard on [Carter] and I’ve been hard on [Miles],” Huggins said. “And I’ve been on them pretty hard about … it’s your team. I told them over there, I knew the Daxter Miles that I thought I had, that I believed in, was in there somewhere. He finally came out.”
Miles scored 15 of his 26 in the second half, pulling down four of his five rebounds in the game and going 14 for 15 from the free throw line. Not to be outdone, Carter scored a career-high 29 points, 20 coming in the second half. He also went 8 for 8 from the free throw line, 5 of 9 from 3-point range and joined Miles in swiping four steals.
“Dax made some great plays,” Huggins said. “He ran through a bunch of balls for us. And JC didn’t just make a great play. He made a bunch of great plays.”
There were plenty of great plays to go around for West Virginia on Sunday night. Junior college transfer Wesley Harris pulled down a team-high 10 rebounds – a crucial move, considering post player Esa Ahmad will not be eligible to play until the second half of the season. West Virginia went 31 of 35 from the free throw line and pressured the Tigers into 20 turnovers, scoring 25 points off of them.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, only committed eight turnovers. Huggins said that WVU’s signature defensive pressure must continue if it wants to stand tall the rest of the season, which continues at 7 p.m. Thursday with a home game versus the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
“That’s what we do,” Huggins said. “If we’re going to be successful, we’ve got to get a whole lot better at that, and that needs to be the norm and not something that we cheer about.”