It was little coincidence the run finally came when the defense, which had been slow in making its rotations -- helping Miami hit 50 percent of its field goals and 50 percent of its 3-pointers in the first half -- picked up its intensity dramatically.
The ’Canes didn’t score a field goal for a span of 10:15 spanning both halves, including the first 9:00 of the second half. By the time Garrius Adams broke the dry spell with a tip-in, the visitors (who held a 37-35 halftime lead) trailed 60-42 with 11:00 to play.
“We guarded a lot better, and I thought our energy was a lot better,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said of the difference in the second half. “We changed how we guarded the ball screen, which I think slowed them down coming off it a little bit.”
There was little chance of a comeback given just how potent WVU’s offense was all game long. The Mountaineers were a staggering 54 percent from the field, making eight of their 20 3-pointers (40 percent).
Player of the Game
Just a game after Huggins said his team could not rely on star forward Kevin Jones to carry the entire load offensively, other players more than stepped up in his stead.
Truck Bryant scored a career-high 27 points, hitting 9-of-12 shots from the floor (including 5-of-7 trifectas).
Deniz Kilicli played perhaps the best few minutes of his career at the start of the second half, part of an 18-point, eight rebound performance that also included five assists as the result of smart passes when Miami finally started sending extra defenders his way.
Gary Browne scored nine (including seven early points to keep his team close) and Aaron Brown added another seven. Jones, the team’s senior leader, still nearly managed a double-double with 12 points and nine boards, but he made only four of 12 shots from the field and missed all four of his 3-pointers.
“We made some shots,” Huggins said. “Truck made some shots. Everybody looks better when the ball goes in.”
By that standard, Miami (5-4) looked quite good in the first half. It raced out to a lead of as many as eight points near the midpoint of the opening frame and shot at a torrid pace throughout, taking advantage of poor defensive rotations to find plenty of open looks.
But West Virginia (6-2) also shot well, even on possessions in which its motion offense was a bit stagnant. The Mountaineers closed to within 37-35 by halftime even though they had never led in the half.
That changed quickly, as Kilicli and Bryant teamed up to score their team’s first 16 points of the second half.
Kilicli, feeling a double-team coming, found Bryant -- making a hard backdoor cut -- with a soft bounce pass for an easy layup. Suddenly, WVU led 51-39 and the 12,257 in attendance (easily the largest home crowd of the season) were roaring their approval.
Huggins’ squad pushed the lead out to 20 at 60-40 on another Bryant 3 and cruised from there.
“In the second half, they picked up their defensive intensity,” Miami coach Jim Larranage said. “Instead of us playing a little better together, we became unglued and started rushing shots and making no passes and not defending them like we had in the first half.”
Malcolm Grant led the Hurricanes with 17 points. Adams and Kenny Kadji each added another 15.
West Virginia survived a tough four game stretch, going 3-1 against Akron, Mississippi State, Kansas State and Miami. It will take the next week off for final exams before next Saturday’s game against Texas A&M Corpus-Christi.