WVU basketball: Mountaineers force 23 turnovers on way to easy victory
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Truck Bryant had a confession after West Virginia raced past Morehead State Tuesday night inside the Civic Center.
"I know we're playing hard when I start breathing hard," Bryant said. "I told them at one point in the second half, 'You've got to give me a break. Stop going full-court for a minute. We're up by 30. Relax for a minute.' "
The pressure defense took more out of Morehead State. The Mountaineers forced 23 turnovers and had 23 points off those errors.
They used their best and most sustained pace on offense and defense this season to ease their way to an 83-48 victory in front of 10,122 at the Charleston Civic Center.
"We want to do that," WVU Coach Bob Huggins said. "It's what I said before, but we'd do it and guys would go by us and have it in the lane. That's not good for us. We'd get spread out and wouldn't do a very good job containing the ball.
"We're getting better at guarding the ball. We have a better understanding. We have better rotations. We still give up too much penetration."
The full-court defense did more good than bad against the Eagles and on both ends of the floor.
Huggins started asking his players to deny the inbound pass early in the game and pick up the Eagles on their half of the floor. It forced WVU to play hard and fast and it had good transition offense and handled Morehead State's press.
Huggins saw fewer of the errors he's criticized early this season.
"We usually have dumb mistakes and stand around and don't play," Huggins said. "I think the hardest thing to do is to get guys to play through the possession and not take time off. I think we're getting better at that."
WVU (3-1) shot 52.8 percent for the game. The lead was 17 points at halftime and then 20 when Bryant made a 3-pointer to start the second half.
It never dipped below that point the rest of the game.
The only drama after halftime was free throw shooting.
WVU was 10-for-10 after going 9-for-21 in the first half.
Bryant had 14 points, four assists and three steals, best among the six players who split up WVU's nine steals.
Kevin Jones had 23 points and 10 rebounds for his 14th career double-double and his second in a row.
Gary Browne had 10 points, six rebounds and five assists and Deniz Kilicli added 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
Morehead State (1-3) was led by 24 points and six 3s from Terrance Hill. The Eagles shot 38.3 percent in the game and were outrebounded, 40-22. WVU had an 18-3 edge in second-chance scoring.
"We're getting better," Huggins said. "You can't do what we do every day and not get better. Coming in and playing hard is not an option. We don't take a team vote before practice and decide."
One thing WVU works on quite often is its pressure defense and it's the one thing that's improving quickly.
"Basically more than half of our drills are full-court drills," Jones said. "We're used to going full-court all the time, but it's something we've rarely used in a game. That wasn't something that was planned. That was something that happened during the game."
WVU forced the full spectrum of turnovers. One time the Eagles were guilty of traveling on the inbound when they tried to work around the WVU player defending the pass and ended up moving on the baseline after a turnover.
The Mountaineers were rewarded with extra possessions and a lot of easy scores. They were in the bonus at the foul line seven minutes into the game and ended up with 28 points in the paint. Ten of those came in the opening minutes.
WVU built a double-digit lead after five minutes and never led by single-digits after that. The Mountaineers led by as many as 37 points late in the second half.
"It helped us increase our tempo more and to get out and run," said Aaron Brown, who had seven points and four rebounds. "Once we got a steal or a rebound, we'd get out and run and get easy baskets. The main focal point for us was to get transition buckets and we did that. And pressing those guys, we got up in them and they got tired and we got easy steals and run-outs from that."
The 23 points off turnovers was a season-high for WVU and the players were convinced they could continue to play that way, even as the schedule gets hard in a hurry.
The Mountaineers play host to Akron at 7 p.m. Monday. The Zips beat Mississippi State to start the season. WVU then plays at Mississippi State, which just won the 2K Sports Classic by beating Arizona at Madison Square Garden. The Mountaineers travel to Wichita, Kan., to play Kansas Sate Dec. 8 and play host to Miami two days later.
"I hope we keep doing it - it worked (Tuesday)," Jones said. "As we keep playing this year, the level of competition will go up, but we just have to adjust it to the level of competition. I feel like we'll be able to do that against everybody."
Huggins said they'll get that chance.
"We're not going away from it," he said.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.