WVU basketball: Huggins relies on reserves in win over Robert Morris
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia University Coach Bob Huggins was seeing the worst of his team Tuesday night. He managed to bring out the best by bringing in five different players.
The Mountaineers coach grew tired of his team's performance in the first half and then gave up on giving players chances at the beginning of the second. When no one showed up to take the inbound pass from Darryl Bryant after Robert Morris scored on the first possession after halftime, Huggins angrily called a timeout. Ahead just 32-31, he substituted the starting five.
"I think he sent a message to the entire team and said, 'If you're not going to play hard all the time, you're not going to play,' " said point guard Joe Mazzulla, who was a part of the group that entered the game. "At that point we had nothing to lose, so we could play relaxed like we normally do. We saw collectively as a team we've got to play much harder and with much more passion and emotion."
Mazzulla and the four others contributed to a 15-4 run over the next 4:41 as the Mountaineers handled the Colonials, 82-49. A fractionally filled Coliseum watched WVU (6-2) extend a December home winning streak and a non-conference home winning streak to 33 games each.
"I get tired of watching guys not play the right way," Huggins said. "I've got great respect for the game and the way it's supposed to be played. The 6,334 that showed up deserve a little better.
"I think that's what it was. Sorry, the 6,443. I hate to short them."
After drawing 12,707 in the season-opener, a combined 13,833 have shown up the past two home games. The Coliseum seats 14,000 and can accommodate several hundred more, but the crowd for Robert Morris was thin to the point people could be counted in some sections.
"I could have," Huggins said. "There was a point in the first half where I thought that might be more appealing."
Deniz Kilicli, whose recent struggles bumped him out of the starting lineup, keyed the run by the second team and finished with 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting. He had scored 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting the previous three games.
"In the second half, I was just mad," Kilicli said. "I was mad and I didn't really care who was saying what. I just went out there and played and did my thing and it worked."
Bryant had 12 points, six assists and three steals and was WVU's best source of offense in the first half with 10 points. John Flowers had the first double-double of his career with 12 points and 10 rebounds. He added two assists and two blocked shots.
Forward Kevin Jones, who is bothered by a leg injury, had six points and five rebounds, but took just two shots in 16 minutes.
Yann Charles and Coron Williams had 11 points each for the Colonials (3-5), who were outrebounded, 48-25, and outscored in the paint, 44-8.
WVU shot 55.8 percent in the game and 63.3 percent in the second half (19-for-30), when it outscored RMU, 50-21.
"We weren't running the offense early on," Mazzulla said. "You notice in the second half we made five, six, seven passes and got them out of their defensive rotations and made easy cuts to the basket. The game is easy when you move the ball. The first half the offense was stagnant, like it has been most of the year."
The Mountaineers made 15 of their first 18 shots after halftime and cleared up shaky play with 12 assists and just two turnovers to take a 68-41 lead. The margin would grow to 37 points, but for long stretches it was not as easy.
The Colonials, picked to finish second in the Northeast Conference preseason poll, led twice in the first half and never trailed by more than six points. They had several simple paths to the basket and took advantage with layups, but also missed a dunk and a handful of other close looks. They also insisted on shooting 3-pointers and missed 10 of 13, though only trailed 32-28 at halftime.
RMU's Russell Johnson rattled in a 3 to start the second half and none of Bryant's teammates bothered to help him with the inbound.
Huggins removed Bryant, Flowers, Jones, Casey Mitchell and Dan Jennings - Jones, Mitchell and Jennings wouldn't return - and put in Kilicli, Mazzulla, Dalton Pepper, Cam Thoroughman and Jonnie West.
Pepper scored on the left baseline, Kilicli scored inside and Mazzulla drove for a layup to force RMU to take a timeout after 1:40. Thoroughman then lobbed a pass to Mazzulla for a layup and Mazzulla later slipped a pass inside to Kilicli for another basket. Thoroughman forced a turnover before Mazzulla and Kilicli connected again. West made a 3 to end the run and push the lead to 47-35.
In the 10 possessions together, the second team was 7-for-8 with five assists and two turnovers. Pepper was 1-for-2, West 1-for-1, Mazzulla 2-for-2 with three assists and Kilicli 3-for-3. Thoroughman didn't score, but had two assists.
"That meant a lot to me," Bryant said. "Honestly, I'm happy Huggs took us out. The first five wasn't playing hard, I don't think, and that's why I was trying to be aggressive at the beginning of the game. But everyone was walking around at times, including myself, and we couldn't get it going. I'm happy Huggs put a new five in."