The hosts turned a seven-point halftime lead into a laugher relatively early in the second half, as the Golden Eagles -- who start three guards and no players taller than 6-8 -- had no answer for WVU’s interior attack.
Forwards Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli had their way, particularly in the second half. They combined to score 37 points -- Jones had 25 points and 14 rebounds -- and helped the Mountaineers (8-2) push their lead to as many as 23 points with 7:21 left.
But despite another easy win, Bob Huggins was hardly pleased. The fifth-year WVU head coach knew his team will have to play far better to earn wins against tougher teams like Missouri State and No. 6 Baylor in the Las Vegas-based portion of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic later this week.
And so for the second straight game, a few players stayed on the bench a bit longer than some may have expected coming in.
Player of the Game
Aaron Brown, arguably playing better than any other true freshman on the West Virginia roster, was in action for only two minutes. Dominique Rutledge played all of 14 seconds before fumbling a ball out of bounds and getting a quick hook from Huggins.
“We had a couple of guys who I didn’t think were ready to play, so I didn’t play them,” Huggins said. “I put them in and they didn’t work to get where they were supposed to be. They weren’t paying attention to the game, so I took them out.”
For perhaps one last night, it didn’t matter. Tennessee Tech was too overmatched to compete, and the Mountaineers’ three veterans combined to score 52 of the team’s 72 points.
But it took a spark from an unlikely source to push WVU to the lead it ultimately held at halftime.
Walk-on freshman guard Paul Williamson checked in far earlier than usual, entering the game with 11:06 left in the first half. He promptly justified Huggins’ faith in him, canning a pair of 3-pointers to push his team’s lead to 18-10.
As Golden Eagles players realized they would have to account for Williamson’s shooting touch, the Logan (W.Va.) High School alumnus adapted. He made nifty passes as defenders closed on him, earning a trio of assists by setting up Jones three times for easy scores.
“A couple of the other guys I didn’t think too the game seriously enough,” Huggins said. “I knew Paul would take the game serious. I think he played really well.”
Still, the game was relatively close at halftime, as WVU held a lead of only 33-26. But West Virginia went on a 21-9 run early in the second half to put an end to any notions Tennessee Tech (6-5) may have had of an upset.
It started with defense, as the Mountaineers held their opponents to only 33.9 percent from the field (19-of-56) including only 6.7 percent accuracy (1-for-15) from behind the 3-point line. Guard Kevin Murphy, who averaged 21 points per game coming into Monday’s contest, was a mere 2-of-11 from the floor for seven points.
“We were struggling so much offensively that we ended up going small, and that really hurt us on the backboards,” Tennessee Tech coach Steve Payne said. “Their physical play and their physical defense really bothered Kevin, in particular.”
Jones led the way with 25 points and 14 boards for WVU. Truck Bryant scored 15 and added six rebounds, while Kilicli added 12. Williamson made his pair of 3-pointers to score six, but no other West Virginia player made more than one shot from the field.
Tennessee Tech was led by Jud Dillard, who managed 15 points and 12 rebounds. No other Golden Eagles player ended up with more than seven.
Huggins will go for his 700th career win on Thursday, when the Mountaineers face Missouri State in Las Vegas. It’s a milestone the veteran has known was coming, but he downplayed the significance in the aftermath of Monday’s victory.
"If you do this 30 years, you'd better win some games," Huggins said. "Or you'll probably be selling insurance."