MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It was an early-season victory over a struggling mid-major, but it felt like a lot more to the West Virginia University men's basketball team.
"It's good to get this good win," sophomore guard Eron Harris said. "Not just a little bitty win, but a good win."
A disappointing upset has a way of making perception evolve.
The Mountaineers went into Sunday afternoon's game against Duquesne looking for payback after the Dukes stunned WVU last year in Pittsburgh. Behind 33 points from Harris and 28 from junior guard Juwan Staten - both career highs - the Mountaineers pulled away from Duquesne, 96-83.
It wasn't just WVU's 60-56 loss last season to a Duquesne team that finished 8-22 that left the Mountaineers smarting. West Virginia (2-1) also was trying to rebound from a tough loss Tuesday at Virginia Tech. Put those together, Harris said, and there was more than enough motivation for the team Sunday.
"We came into this game hungry, like we were playing a rival," Harris said. "And we got a big one."
While the Dukes (1-2) never led in the second half, they tied it once - Micah Mason's 3-pointer with 14:54 left knotted the game at 59 - and cut WVU's lead to three points several times. The last came when Dominique McCoy's jumper pulled Duquesne to a 73-70 deficit with 7:58 left.
But WVU went on a 16-2 run over the next 5 minutes, 38 seconds to put the game away. Harris scored eight points and Staten scored four in that span.
WVU Coach Bob Huggins was happy to see some of his returning players put the team on their backs to get the win. He wasn't too pleased, though, that some newcomers still hadn't gotten dialed in. He said that when he entered the locker room after the game, he asked which players read the scouting report and which watched the scouting video on their iPads. His five returning players, he said, were the only ones to raise their hands on both.
"The older guys know the consequences of not being prepared," Huggins said. "Our newcomers don't know that. You'd think they would learn by this point, but they haven't. So you have to keep grinding and grinding on them until they get it."
The Mountaineers started out strong from 3-point range again, and this time they coupled that with better performance closer to the basket. That wasn't the case in WVU's loss Tuesday at Virginia Tech. In Blacksburg, the Mountaineers shot a respectable 11-for-24 from 3 (45.8 percent), but that was paired with a dismal 14-for-46 clip (30.4 percent) from inside the arc.