West Virginia let an opposing center dominate in its first loss of the season. How it responds will in part be determined by how it fares against a center who has a different kind of impact on the game.
The eighth-ranked Mountaineers seek their first 3-0 Big East start in three seasons when they host NCAA shot blocks leader Hamady Ndiaye and Rutgers on Wednesday night.
West Virginia (11-1, 2-0) had its perfect season end Friday with a 77-62 loss at then-No. 4 Purdue. JaJuan Johnson had no trouble with the Mountaineers’ interior defense, finishing with 25 points and 10 rebounds.
“I think our point guards did a better job of guarding him than our big guys did,” coach Bob Huggins said. “He destroyed our bigs. Maybe we should have kept our point guards on him.”
The Mountaineers will next be facing a big man known for his defensive prowess in Ndiaye, whose 5.2 blocks per game lead the nation. Ndiaye, however, is not as prolific a scorer as Johnson, averaging 9.3 points and 5.2 rebounds.
Still, the 6-foot-11 native of Senegal had never averaged more than 5.6 points and 3.0 blocks before his senior season. He seems to be much improved from the player who has totaled 10 points, seven boards and four blocks in three career games against West Virginia.
Ndiaye could make it difficult for Mountaineers leading scorer Da’Sean Butler around the basket. Butler averaged 19.0 points on 59.1 percent shooting in two Big East wins before making 5 of 14 shots for 17 points against Purdue.
“It’s very difficult when we’re being taken out of our offense, and guys aren’t coming to the ball,” Butler said. “We were getting taken out of our offense, and we didn’t take them out of anything. They just scored whenever they wanted.”
West Virginia has won four straight over Rutgers (9-4, 0-1), and this is the last time Butler - a Newark, N.J., native - will face the Scarlet Knights. He’s averaging 13.7 points in three meetings.
Butler will likely match up with Rutgers leading scorer Mike Rosario, who is averaging 17.6 points. Rosario, though, was held in check in a 65-58 loss in the conference opener, a 65-58 home loss to Cincinnati on Saturday.
The sophomore guard missed 15 of 19 shots and had 12 points.
“Mike has to score for us and he’s going to be the focal point of every defense,” coach Fred Hill said. “They did a good job of staying home on him and not letting him get very many good looks.”
Ndiaye was hampered by foul trouble and had two rebounds in 28 minutes as Rutgers was outrebounded 40-28.
“It’s just something we have got to get better at,” Hill said. “It has been our Achilles’ heel all year long. I think rebounding was the difference in the game especially in the second half.”
Rutgers went 0-8 in Big East road games last season and is 5-25 all-time in Morgantown.