That fact in itself is amazing, yet another testament to how far this team has come and how much it has improved since a year ago.
But the number of points the Mountaineers scored, that’s not the big reason behind this victory. On Monday night in Morgantown, West Virginia played defense.
The same team that has allowed its opponent to score at least 80 points in half of its Big 12 Conference games this season challenged an Iowa State team that is among the most dangerous and most efficient offensive basketball teams in the Big 12 to a track meet. And the No. 11 Cyclones were totally outmatched and overpowered by a hungry Mountaineer team that continued on its journey to fight its way back into national relevance.
Sure, the Mountaineers gave up 77 points, a number that is not necessarily an acceptable number in most games. But in a game in which your opponent takes 71 shots and has 77 possessions, you could definitely do much worse. The Cyclones averaged one point per possession, quite a step down from their season average of 1.14, and weren’t able to get in much of a rhythm offensively for the majority of the game.
A few games ago, back before Juwan Staten’s game-winning layup against Baylor that started West Virginia’s recent string of wins and better play, Kevin Noreen talked about defense at the end of the Mountaineers’ one-point loss to Oklahoma State.
Like a lot of things in basketball, playing good team defense is just a matter of buying in and executing what you’re supposed to do. As the junior forward put it, even if four guys are on the same page, that one person who isn’t will cost the team a bucket – especially at a crucial moment. For much of this season, that’s been an issue for West Virginia. But on Monday, there was one moment specifically that stood out as a major example of how much better WVU is, and can be, defensively.
A lot of times when WVU gets beat on defense, it’s when the opponent does a nice job of passing the ball around, the Mountaineers get jumbled up in their rotations and a player gets lost, leaving an open shooter to make WVU pay the price. With a little more than 11 minutes to play Monday night, something similar to this happened. Only this time, freshman Nathan Adrian was able to make his adjustment, get over to where he was supposed to be and stole the ball.
That resulted in an Adrian layup a couple seconds later.
That’s the way things went for the Mountaineers on Monday. Not much went wrong.
The Cyclones’ two stars, DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim, did not look like themselves. Kane was rattled early in the game and although he finished with 14 points and six rebounds, his five turnovers proved to be costly for the Cyclones. After scoring a Big 12 record 48 points against TCU two days before, Ejim made only one of his nine attempts from the field – missing his final eight attempts of the game – to finish with six points and 12 rebounds.
So, yes, the Mountaineers won in extremely impressive fashion. And yes, the fact that WVU had possibly one of its best performances offensively in a long time was a huge boost and a big factor in the victory. But it was a total performance – one that this team hasn’t seen in a long time.
This team is buying in, and you can tell. The improvements are hard to ignore.
And soon, the rest of the country will notice that as well – if it hasn’t started to already.