Only for short stretches was this one even competitive. West Virginia took an early 10-4 lead, but the Wildcats, led by guard Corey Fisher (who had 11 consecutive points for his team in one early stretch) responded with a 17-4 run to take control. The hosts never relented, taking a 30-19 halftime lead.
A brief second half Mountaineer rally got WVU back within 36-33, and a Kevin Jones jumper just before the under-12:00 media timeout had head coach Bob Huggins’ squad still in striking range at 45-40.
But Villanova (19-4, 7-3) turned it into a laugher down the stretch, using a 19-3 run to take a 64-43 lead into the final minutes. All that was left was to wait for the clock to hit zeroes.
The ESPN broadcast crew didn’t even wait that long, cutting away from the contest in the final minutes to show the waning seconds of a competitive game between Georgetown and Providence instead.
Indeed, the Mountaineers (15-7, 6-4) looked nothing like the team that had fought gamely for the last two weeks, getting timely contributions from several different players to win games against Cincinnati and Seton Hall and come within a buzzer-beater of knocking off a nationally-ranked Louisville team on the road.
They did all of that shorthanded, but couldn’t take advantage of the return of guard Casey Mitchell on Saturday.
The team’s leading average scorer was back in action after being suspended for the last three games for an undisclosed violation of team rules, but he couldn’t help either, missing all three of his field goal attempts and going scoreless while committing two turnovers in 13 minutes.
But few of Mitchell’s teammates fared much better. WVU went 9:19 without a field goal in the first half and struggled to find the basket all contest long. Its 19 first half points were a season-low, as were its 50 points overall.
It’s simply the continuation of what has been an alarming trend for the Mountaineers in recent weeks, as they have had issues with scoring. This was the fourth time in West Virginia’s last five games that it has been held to 56 points or fewer.
“We have open shots. We just don’t make them,” Huggins told the Mountaineer Sports Network afterwards.
“I said to [players], ‘Explain what you want me to do.’ They were spreading their guards out. We have open shots from the free throw line. Kevin made the first one and we didn’t make any after that. And we didn’t have any patience.
“We’re not going to run up and down and beat anybody in this league. We’ve lost too many guys. We’ve lost too many cogs in the wheel. It’s not that we can’t win, but we’ve got to win doing it the way we’ve got to do it. I don’t like it that way, but that’s the way it is. We score 50 points. You’re not going to win scoring 50.”
But Huggins’ squad had overcome those offensive deficiencies in recent weeks by dominating on defense and on the glass. That wasn’t to be on Saturday, as Villanova’s 66 points were the most WVU had allowed to a Big East Conference opponent since yielding 79 to Marquette in a loss on New Year’s Day.
Fisher, particularly, was a thorn in the Mountaineers’ side, scoring 16 points and hitting three 3-point field goals. Fellow guard Maalik Wayns also proved to be a difficult match-up for the visitors, driving into the lane on several occasions and stepping back to hit jump shots on others on the way to a game-high 17 point outing.
But it wasn’t just the backcourt, even though that was as effective for head coach Jay Wright’s Wildcats as always. Forwards Mouphtaou Yarou and Antonio Pena also had their way, adding another 11 and 10 points respectively.
Efficiency was the name of the game offensively for ‘Nova, which shot 54.3 percent from the field (including a staggering 70 percent in the second half) and 50 percent (7-of-14) from 3-point range overall. It committed only eight turnovers.
The same couldn’t be said for West Virginia, which was only 35.8 percent (19-of-53) from the field. It couldn’t make up for that with rebounding, as it had in other recent games, as the Wildcats won the battle on the glass outright, 35-29.
“We talked about a few things. We talked about how we couldn’t get outrebounded,” Huggins said. “The truth of the matter is we won a couple last week because we were up double figures in the rebound margin. We get outrebounded by six today.”
Jones led the Mountaineers with 16 points, but he was held to an uncharacteristically low six rebounds. Senior forward John Flowers added 15 more points, but he had only one rebound. Reserve guard Dalton Pepper came off the bench to tally nine points.
Only three other WVU players scored, and none of them had more than four points.
Things get little easier for the Mountaineers, who will return to Morgantown and face a quick turnaround before a Big Monday match-up with their arch-rival and the lone leader of the Big East, No. 4 Pittsburgh.