MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University men’s basketball team needed a bounce-back performance Thursday after suffering its first loss of the season last week.
As it turns out, visiting Austin Peay was more than willing to provide that opportunity as the Mountaineers cruised to a 84-53 win against the Governors at the WVU Coliseum.
Last time out in the loss to St. John’s at Madison Square Garden, West Virginia (8-1) only fell by two points but struggled shooting the ball — both from the floor and at the foul line — as well as with turnovers. Thursday against the Governors, however, WVU seemed to, for a game at least, alleviate some of those problems.
West Virginia connected on 34 of 67 shot attempts, made 10 of 16 foul shots and finished with 14 turnovers — which is high, but also eight fewer than the Mountaineers had against St. John’s last week.
WVU never trailed Thursday, but the visiting Governors played the Mountaineers tough early in the first half. West Virginia finished the half with eight turnovers, several of which came in the first few minutes. By the end of the game’s first 20 minutes, however, the Mountaineers stretched their lead to 38-21 and never had to look back.
“[We played better] at times,” veteran WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “Our ball security is not what it needs to be and until we get better at that, we’re going to struggle like we struggled early in the game. We turned it over early in the game, and we struggled. We don’t turn it over then get out in transition, and we’re a different team.
“I think more importantly we did the things we worked on. We wanted movement — we get so stagnant sometimes. That’s the first time that we’ve really ran any kind of motion offense. We’ve run sets trying to take advantage of our size before, and we’ve played a lot of people who have basically packed it back in there. We start making shots, then all of a sudden you have to come out and guard us, and that opens things up.”
Sophomore Emmitt Matthews was hot early for WVU against Austin Peay and never really backed down. The Tacoma, Washington, native had a team-high 11 points in the first half and finished with a team-high 16 points to go with 10 rebounds Thursday.
Huggins said prior to Thursday’s game that Matthews had been West Virginia’s most consistent player so far this season, and it showed against the Governors.
“[Matthews] shot it really well for the first, whatever, four or five games, then he didn’t shoot it as well,” Huggins said. “Guys like him are much better with movement. He can use his length, he can use his athleticism. He’s not the thickest, strongest guy — guys like that need space. They need to be able to move.”
Freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe did not get off to the best start Thursday, but was a force to be reckoned with on the inside in the second half against the Governors. Tshiebwe had just two points and five rebounds in not quite nine minutes of playing time in the first half before finishing with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“He was just standing around [in the first half],” Huggins said. “He and Derek [Culver] were both standing around. I think they both got frustrated, and Oscar got really active in the second half. We’ve been telling Oscar that his strength is he runs — he runs better than any guy his size probably in the country, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of that? We worked this week on getting some movement in the offense, and when we’re not stagnant and we move it, it makes guys like Oscar a lot better.”
For Austin Peay (4-5), junior guard Terry Taylor finished as the game’s leading scorer with 19 points and teammate Antwuan Butler chipped in with 14 points.
Next up for West Virginia is a Saturday visit from Nicholls. Tipoff for that game between the Mountaineers and Colonels is scheduled for 2 p.m. with AT&T SportsNet handling the broadcast.