At the end of a game where so many Mountaineers had solid offensive performances, it wasn't easy to…
West Virginia (16-8, 7-5) had failed to score even 60 points in four of its last six games, but it had 47 by halftime against a struggling DePaul squad, which fell to 6-18 overall and 0-12 in Big East play.
It was only the second time a Mountaineer team had scored 80 points or more in a regulation game against a Big East opponent since beating then-No. 19 Georgetown 81-68 on Senior Night last March.
WVU shot 52.8 percent from the field, but it would be a misnomer to say that it overcame its season-long shooting struggles in this one. The Mountaineers made hay by attacking the rim again and again. Their first 10 points all came on layups and other shots around the basket, setting the tone.
"If you go out and blast up five jumpers and don't make any, you're thinking to yourself, ‘I'm having a bad day,'" said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. "If you get yourself a layup and a rebound, all of a sudden you're 2-for-5 and thinking the next one might go in."
All told, 40 of West Virginia's 82 points were scored in the paint. Add in another 20 points that resulted from a 20-of-25 performance at the foul line, and only 22 of the team's points came by way of field goals outside the lane.
That helped the Mountaineers avoid the kind of second half collapse that nearly cost them in the teams' first meeting, a 67-65 win for WVU in January. Huggins and company held a double-digit lead in the second half of that one as well, but a long scoring drought and a series of turnovers almost cost them the win.
DePaul made a late surge in this one as well. After the hosts took their biggest lead at 67-50 on a pair of Deniz Kilicli free throws, the Blue Demons used a 17-7 run to make it 74-67 with 2:48 to play -- plenty of time to complete a comeback in front of what was a listless Coliseum crowd.
"I thought we were really good until the end. Then we started standing around again," Huggins said.
But this time, a few late miscues and some missed shots from the visitors, combined with a 6-for-6 performance from the free throw line in the final minutes for West Virginia, ensured that DePaul would never quite get back within striking distance.
"We had a chance toward the end of the game, but we missed a couple free throw opportunities to really turn the pressure up on them," said first-year Blue Demons coach Oliver Purnell, who has found life in the Big East tough after a long tenure at Clemson. "West Virginia did a good job of handling our pressure."
Huggins said team should be in fine shape for the NCAA Tournament given its lofty RPI and strength of schedule rankings. All the Mountaineers need, he said Friday, is to "win some games."
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This Mountaineer team, still ranked No. 25 in the most recent Associated Press poll and holding a loftier mark in the RPI, likely has done enough to secure a trip to the Big Dance.
But to make sure it is on the right side of the bubble on Selection Sunday in a few weeks' time, avoiding "bad" losses is every bit as important as getting "quality" wins. In beating the Blue Demons, West Virginia avoided what would have been a significant hit to its RPI rating.
There is no such worry about postseason basketball for DePaul, which lost its 12th consecutive game. It has yet to post a victory since the calendar flipped to 2011.
"I'm sure it grinds on them," Purnell said of the way his players have handled the losing streak. "We've been playing better and better, just not playing good enough to win or close out games."
If the Blue Demons don't play better defensively than they did against WVU on Saturday, they likely won't break that losing streak this season.
The Mountaineers assisted on 23 of their 28 field goals and got into the lane almost at will. Only two West Virginia players failed to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, and both Kevin Jones (4-of-9, 44.4 percent) and Truck Bryant (3-of-8, 37.5 percent) weren't far from it.
"I thought by and large we were a lot better," Huggins said of his team's offensive performance. "We passed it better."
As they did last week, the Mountaineers face a quick turnaround. They will travel to No. 12 Syracuse for a Big Monday game against the Orange, who have lost back-to-back games to Georgetown and Louisville.
Tip time at the Carrier Dome, where WVU won the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament last year to advance to the Final Four, is set for 7:00 p.m. on Valentine's Day.