Huggins called a timeout a mere 24 seconds into the second half of what was an unexpectedly close game between his team and Robert Morris, just after the Colonials’ Russell Johnson had hit a 3-pointer to bring the visitors within 32-31 and no Mountaineer had stayed back to receive the ensuing inbounds pass from Truck Bryant.
The fourth-year coach took out Bryant, John Flowers, Dan Jennings, Kevin Jones and Casey Mitchell in favor of Deniz Kilicli, Joe Mazzulla, Dalton Pepper, Cam Thoroughman and Jonnie West.
“All I said was, ‘Give me five more guys,’ and whoever went in went in,” Huggins said of the move.
“You’re going to be shocked, but it honestly has worked for me every time. Honestly, it has.”
True to form, the wholesale change worked like a charm, as Kilicli led WVU on a 23-4 run after that line-up change. The sophomore from Istanbul, Turkey, scored a career-high 14 points, and the Mountaineers pulled away from the Colonials for an 82-49 victory at the Coliseum on Tuesday night.
Kilicli, who had struggled to adapt to an increased role and increased responsibilities in his second season in Morgantown, finally gave West Virginia partisans reason to believe he may be able to become the consistent post presence Huggins had hoped he would be.
“I thought he really played with some strength in the second half,” the head coach said of Kilicli. “There were some times he had guys grabbing ahold of him, and he still got it up on the rim.”
The 6-foot-9, 270-pound forward scored six of the first 12 Mountaineer points in the game-changing run and even showed a bit of defensive moxie, taking a charge to give his team the ball back with a 44-35 lead. West canned a jumper from beyond the arc on the next trip down the floor, and the rout was finally on.
West Virginia (6-2) outscored RMU 50-21 in the second half, building a lead of as many as 37 points at 80-43 with 1:47 remaining after Huggins called that momentum-changing timeout with his team holding a mere one point edge.
“Just outclassed, I think, especially for the last 19 minutes of the game,” said Colonials head coach Andrew Toole.
“Clearly the bigger, faster, stronger players for West Virginia continually just wore out our guys. Obviously, their game plan was to throw it inside over and over again. That’s exactly what they did, and we didn’t have much of answer for it.”
The statistics bear out Toole, Robert Morris’s 30-year-old coach.
The Mountaineers finished with a 44-8 edge in terms of points in the paint and an 18-3 advantage in second-chance points. WVU won the rebounding battle in the second half by a staggering 28-11 margin.
“We were just so stagnant,” Huggins said, contrasting those numbers with his team’s first half play. “We didn’t make hard cuts. We didn’t pass the ball. We didn’t rebound the ball. We just stood around, and I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of tired of seeing that. I told them at halftime I was going to find somebody who was going to play the way we wanted to play.”
In Kilicli and some of the other subs, Huggins found those players. While the Turkey native led all scorers with his career-high 14 points, John Flowers (playing in considerable pain for the second-straight game after taking several hard shots to his right hip) quietly added 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Truck Bryant struggled from the field (3 of 9) but got to the foul line often enough (6 of 8) to add 12 more, and Dalton Pepper added nine points, four rebounds, four assists and no turnovers in 26 minutes off the bench.
Pepper and Kilicli, both sophomores, were notable parts of the line-up that changed the game when Huggins made his wholesale substitution. That came just after a halftime speech that was, according to players, filled with surprisingly little vitriol from the infamously intense Huggins.
“I didn’t know what to tell them,” Huggins said of why he was so oddly calm in the locker room. “How many times can you tell them how to run the same offense? How many times can you tell them where they’re supposed to be defensively? How many times can you tell them to go rebound the ball? It’s not like we don’t work on it. What did they want me to say? Please play?”
"I just get tired of watching guys not play. I’ve got great respect for the game and the way it’s supposed to be played, and the 6,334 that showed up deserved to watch better than that. I think that’s what [the crowd] was -- 6,443. I hate to short them 11."
Huggins was almost out of answers after a sloppy and lethargic first half, one that saw WVU fail to forge a significant advantage, and Robert Morris stayed within striking distance throughout.
The Mountaineers’ biggest lead of the period was a mere six points. The visitors had the advantage on a couple of occasions, going up 18-17 on a pair of Karon Abraham free throws after Huggins, who eschewed his typical black warm-up for a full suit, was whistled for a technical foul for chirping at the officials with 8:08 left in the half.
If the technical foul was a motivational tactic on the fourth-year head coach’s part, it wasn’t especially effective.
West Virginia led only 32-28 at the intermission despite shooting 45.5 percent from the field while holding RMU to 34.5 percent. For the game, WVU hit 55.8 percent of its shots, while the visitors were held to only 29.8 percent shooting.
The Colonials (3-5) were led by Charles Yann and Coron Williams, who each had 11 points.
The Mountaineers will play another Pittsburgh area team next, making the short trek up I-79 to face Duquesne at the new Consol Energy Center in the Steel City on Sunday night at 7:00 p.m.