MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP)—West Virginia bounced back from its first loss of the season by taking out its frustrations on Rutgers.
Kevin Jones scored 19 points and the eighth-ranked Mountaineers never trailed in dismantling the Scarlet Knights 86-52 on Wednesday night.
Five days after getting embarrassed at No. 4 Purdue, the Mountaineers (12-1, 3-0 Big East) put together something more to coach Bob Huggins’ liking—patient ball movement, tenacious defense and improved play out of the guard position.
After turning the ball over 18 times and being held to its lowest point total of the season in a 77-62 loss to the Boilermarkers, West Virginia coughed it up only seven times against Rutgers and put together perhaps its most complete game.
“Coach stressed that we couldn’t have any letdowns throughout the game,” Jones said. “He wanted us to play the whole 40 minutes and I think we tried our best to do that.”
Da’Sean Butler and Darryl Bryant added 15 points apiece for West Virginia and Devin Ebanks had 11 points and nine rebounds.
Jonathan Mitchell scored 17 points for Rutgers (9-5, 0-2), which was held to its lowest point total of the season. The Scarlet Knights had scored 58 points four times previously and had quite the challenge in their first Big East road game.
“We have a lot of young kids who got their first lesson in how cruel this league can be and how tough it is on the road,” Rutgers coach Fred Hill said.
West Virginia had used an all-forward starting lineup in the four previous games. But Huggins gave Bryant his starting point guard spot back Wednesday after a good week of practice and the sophomore responded with one of his best games.
“He came in and was very receptive to trying to get better and helping our team,” Huggins said.
Bryant had only one turnover in 20 minutes after averaging 5.0 points and 2.5 turnovers off the bench the past four games.
“I was down on myself, but I just wanted to play better and I know that my team needed me,” Bryant said. “I just came to practice ready to work and ready to get better. I just needed to play harder and run the team and that’s what I’m going to do for the rest of the year, honestly.”
Backup point guard Joe Mazzulla, with five assists in 15 minutes, and reserve shooting guard Dalton Pepper also made significant contributions.
Rutgers went the first 7 minutes of the second half without a basket, enabling West Virginia to push a 17-point halftime lead to 65-32 with 14:32 left after consecutive 3-pointers by Pepper.
John Flowers put the exclamation point on the rout with a one-handed rebound dunk over 7-footer Hamady Ndiaye for a 79-45 lead with 3:45 remaining.
The Mountaineers’ defense was shredded by Purdue’s 6-foot-10 JaJuan Johnson but West Virginia didn’t have as much trouble with Rutgers, which committed 20 turnovers and was outrebounded 39-28.
Despite the presence of Ndiaye, the nation’s shot block leader, West Virginia moved the ball around the perimeter well and that amounted to a ton of open looks from outside.
“I used to watch Bobby Knight’s Indiana teams and their motion (offense) and say that was the hardest thing to guard,” Hill said. “But West Virginia takes that to another level.”
West Virginia, unveiling black uniforms with gold trim, shot nearly 56 percent (20 of 36) from the field in the first half. Jones’ 3-pointer midway through the half put the Mountaineers ahead 30-13. West Virginia’s 47 first-half points were a season high.
The Mountaineers also listened to Huggins’ plea to attack the ball better on defense. Mike Rosario, Rutgers’ leading scorer, was 4 of 14 and finished with 11 points, seven below his average.
“They were focusing a lot on me and trying to deny me the ball as much as they could and tried to take away my outside shot,” Rosario said. “They pressured us and took us out of our offense. They made us do other things that we weren’t used to doing.”
Rutgers lost its third straight game and the second time to a ranked opponent in nine days. No. 10 North Carolina beat the Scarlet Knights 81-67 on Dec. 28.
“They’re a lot different, the ACC and the Big East,” Rosario said. “The Big East is more physical. West Virginia and Bob Huggins try to teach these guys to work hard and that’s what they did tonight—work hard on defense and take away every cut.”
West Virginia will play road games at Notre Dame and South Florida before returning home for a league showdown against No. 7 Syracuse on Jan. 16.