MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP)—West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was pleased to see his team get going on offense after a six-game lull.
The Mountaineers will need to do much more of the same during the home stretch of a rugged Big East schedule if they want a high seed in the conference tournament.
John Flowers led West Virginia’s balanced offense with 15 points and the 25th-ranked Mountaineers never trailed in beating DePaul 82-71 on Saturday.
After averaging 58 points in its previous six games, West Virginia surpassed that figure midway through the second half. It marked the first time since Jan. 13 that the Mountaineers scored more than 80 points.
But after its highest first-half output of the season, West Virginia (16-8, 7-5 Big East) ran into lulls after halftime and didn’t put away DePaul (6-18, 0-12) until the final minutes.
Huggins blamed that on some of his players not helping complete plays on the offensive end.
“We don’t do a very good job of getting easy baskets,” he said. “We’re just so undersized.
“When you’ve got them on the run and you’ve got them chasing you, that’s when you really want to spread them and back-cut them. You’re going to score on back cuts and slips and those kind of things. When you just stand in the post, you can’t relieve pressure and we just didn’t do a very good job of that at the end.”
Deniz Kilicli and Joe Mazzulla added 12 points apiece and Casey Mitchell and Truck Bryant both scored 11 for West Virginia, which needed a win against the league’s worst team to bolster its confidence following consecutive losses to No. 9 Villanova and No. 4 Pittsburgh.
Another loss would have sent West Virginia tumbling to 11th place in the conference. Instead, the Mountaineers improved to sixth, just ahead of No. 12 Syracuse.
“This is one we had to have,” Huggins said. “I thought we controlled the tempo pretty well and did a pretty good job against their pressure.”
Five of the Mountaineers’ six remaining regular-season games are against ranked teams, including Monday at Syracuse.
The last time DePaul and West Virginia met on Jan. 4, the Mountaineers blew a 14-point lead in the second half and held on for a 67-65 road win behind Mitchell’s 18 points.
DePaul had no such luck cutting into a double-digit deficit this time.
Brandon Young led DePaul with 14 points, while Jimmy Drew added 13 and Krys Faber and Tony Freeland both had 11.
The Blue Demons have lost 25 consecutive Big East games and 29 straight on the road.
“I’m sure it grinds on them,” coach Oliver Purnell said. “We’ve been playing better. We’re just not playing good enough to win or to close out games. They’ve done an outstanding job in the face of adversity, but it’s tough to take for anyone.”
Following its strong first half, West Virginia needed some time to extend a 13-point halftime lead. The Mountaineers made just four field goals over the first 10 minutes of the second half, and Michael Bizoukas made a layup to cut DePaul’s deficit to 59-48.
Jeremiah Kelly’s 3-pointer with 2:48 left brought the Blue Demons within 74-67, but DePaul scored just four points the rest of the game.
West Virginia went 6 of 6 from the free throw line after that and Flowers’ dunk with 49 seconds left sealed it.
The Mountaineers outscored DePaul 20-13 from the line and shot 53 percent (28 of 53) from the field while DePaul shot 51 percent (25 of 49), including 63 percent after halftime.
West Virginia has allowed 71 points in back-to-back games after opponents averaged 55 points in the five games before that.
“We’ve got to start guarding again,” Huggins said. “We’re not guarding very well.”
West Virginia easily handled DePaul’s full-court press and often was able to get quick open looks on the offensive end.
Flowers took an alley-oop pass from Mitchell and laid it in for a 38-28 lead with 5:50 left in the first half. West Virginia compiled 23 assists.
“When we share the ball, good things happen,” Flowers said. “We made good passes and good cuts and that’s when we’re good in this offense.”
West Virginia led by as many as 16 points late in the first half and 47-34 at halftime.