A national television audience, watching as part of ESPN’s College Hoops Tip Off Marathon, got to see many of this young WVU team’s weaknesses.
Showing just how much this 24-hour event is truly all about the Worldwide Leader, ESPN had a camera in the Kent State locker room at halftime, when the Golden Flashes trailed 33-28. KSU coach Rob Senderhoff told his players the Mountaineers would “crumble” under pressure.
He was right.
Senderhoff employed a full-court pressure defense, much like Oral Roberts did in the second half of West Virginia’s season-opening win on Friday night, to change the game.
It didn’t bring about immediate results, at least in terms of turnovers, as WVU committed only two in the first six minutes of the half (notably, with both coming from upperclassmen -- Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli -- and not from freshmen). But the press served to increase the pace of play for the rest of the game, which strongly favored Kent State.
“Truck tried to make plays that weren’t there,” Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins said. “All of a sudden, you don’t run offense. I think it’s your nature to try to do something positive, but in the end, you’re not really doing something positive.”
The poor offense translated to the other end of the floor as well.
The Golden Flashes (1-0) scored only 28 points in the entire first half, but scored 27 in the first 9:49 of the second half. After shooting only 35.7 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes, the visitors hit 58.1 percent of their second half attempts.
All told, their 19-4 run turned what was a 41-36 Mountaineer lead into a 55-45 deficit for WVU.
“They made a run a year ago in the NIT with second half comebacks, and we just let them right back in the game,” Huggins said.
Nothing went right for West Virginia in the second half, and it wasn’t just the six true freshmen (who again all played) who struggled. Senior guard Bryant turned the ball over six times, had only one assist and was only 4-of-13 from the field.
And things deteriorated on the defensive end as well. Huggins tried everything he could tactically, including 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones. Nothing worked, as players were out of position in both defenses, and Kent State players continued to score nearly at will.
“In the first half, all we were able to do was try to dribble around and jack up a shot, because we weren’t getting things in transition,” Senderhoff said. “Being able to rebound and being able to get some steals, get some easy ones really made the difference for us.”
The vast majority of the 5,616 who showed up at the Coliseum at a time typically more suited to breakfast than basketball began to file out in the waning moments, as the visitors continued to hold a double-digit lead and were never seriously threatened down the stretch.
That outcome was hardly a lock early. The Golden Flashes trailed for almost the entirety of the first half, with WVU pounding the glass after being badly beaten in the rebounding battle in a win over Oral Roberts on Friday.
All told, West Virginia dominated the boards 46-31 -- a complete reversal of that ORU game, when Huggins’ club collected only 24 caroms in the entire game. But 17 Mountaineer turnovers more than offset that deficit, and Kent State actually attempted two more field goals (59-57) than WVU.
Freshman Aaron Brown scored seven straight points early though, punctuating the run with a 3-pointer that gave his squad a 14-6 lead. But Senderhoff’s club answered immediately with an 11-2 spurt, taking its first lead at 17-16 on a Carlton Guyton drive and layup.
The Mountaineers (1-1) attacked the rim early and often, getting the free throw line 17 times in the first half (as many as they did in the entire Oral Roberts game) and 28 times in total. But WVU made only 16 of those 28 foul shots (57.1 percent).
“We are not good enough to shoot 16-for-28 from the foul line, turn it over 17 times -- in particular turnovers that lead to baskets -- and win,” Huggins said succinctly.
Still, the hosts held a 33-28 halftime edge and appeared to still be in fine shape when Jabarie Hinds stole the ball and scored a fast-break layup to make it 41-36 four minutes into the second half.
But that was when Kent State’s game-changing run began. Guyton hit a jumper and Randal Holt drilled a 3-pointer to tie things up at 41. Patrick Jackson added a layup just before Chris Evans did the same. Evans then punctuated a string of 11-unanswered points with a slam dunk, and the defending Mid-American Conference regular season champions held a 47-41 lead they would never relinquish.
Guyton led the way for KSU with 17 points and four assists. Defending MAC player of the year Justin Greene added 12 points and eight rebounds, and Holt hit three 3-pointers on the way to a 13 point effort.
For West Virginia, Kevin Jones turned in a strong performance with 15 points and a career-high 18 rebounds. Kilicli also had a career-high with 15 rebounds and added 11 points as well.
The Mountaineers -- who saw their program-record 38-game non-conference home winning streak ended -- face a quick turnaround, as they will host Alcorn State at the Coliseum on Thursday night.