Forwards Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli sat out much of the first half and watched from the bench as their young West Virginia teammates trailed early and struggled to put the Islanders away, holding only a four point lead at halftime.
But when the veteran duo returned for the second half, the game immediately changed. Jones scored eight straight points and Kilicli figured prominently into a decisive 14-3 run to start the half, and the Mountaineers pulled away for an 84-64 win at the Coliseum.
Jones was dominant, scoring 22 points on 11-of-16 shooting and pulling down eight rebounds. He managed that despite playing only six minutes in the first half after picking up a pair of quick fouls.
“I just wanted to come out and set an example for our teammates, play hard like Coach expects us to do every time we’re out there on the floor,” the senior said. “I sat out the whole first half, so I was pretty fresh and I wanted to come out with as much energy as possible.
Player of the Game
“They need us on the floor as far as scoring and rebounding and leadership. When you see your teammates out there struggling, it just hurts when you can’t be out there because you’re in foul trouble.”
Without his two most experienced interior players for much of the half, Huggins relied on a young lineup. He played five freshmen for a spell, and Truck Bryant was the only starter to play more than 11 minutes in the half.
Though the younger players let a 26-17 lead dwindle to 32-28 by halftime, the head coach didn’t make drastic lineup changes. He didn’t even use a timeout.
It was by design, as Huggins was disgusted what what he saw as listless play from the veterans who are supposed to lead his team.
“We were bad in the shootaround today,” the head coach said. “We weren’t ready to play. I saw it coming. They knew if they didn’t come out and play hard, they weren’t going to play. And some of them didn’t play. Then you have those guys that want to know, ‘What do I have to do to get in the game?’ You put them in the game, and everybody sees why I haven’t put them in the game.”
Things changed as soon as the second half started.
Jones re-entered the lineup and immediately showed what he could do. He scored on a layup, then grabbed an offensive rebound on the next trip and put in another easy basket. He added another layup off a nice lob pass, then scored a layup in transition.
It was all part of a concerted effort to attack the interior, as the Islanders lacked quality size. Huggins’ squad found more success by working the ball to Jones and Kilicli in the second half, as the hosts shot 19-for-31 (61.3 percent) from the field in the final 20 minutes.
“Is it any wonder?” Huggins asked rhetorically. “You know where we threw the ball in the second half. When you throw the ball into those guys and they work to catch it, generally good things happen.”
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi wilted as Jones led the Mountaineers on their decisive run. WVU built its lead to 20 before the midpoint of the second half and was never seriously threatened thereafter.
For West Virginia (7-2), Jones led the way with his 22 points and eight boards despite playing only 26 minutes. Kilicli added 13 points and seven rebounds in only 15 minutes. Bryant was the only WVU player to play more than 26 minutes and finished with 14 points and five assists.
The 1-7 Islanders got solid contributions from forward Chris Hawkins-Mast and guard Terence Jones, who scored 22 and 20, respectively. Only four other A&M-CC players scored, however.
After a week off for finals, WVU faces a quick turnaround. It will play against Tennessee Tech on Monday night at the Coliseum.