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Mountaineers looking to bounce back vs. Alcorn State

MORGANTOWN - After West Virginia lost 70-60 at home to Kent State Tuesday morning, Bob Huggins was quick to point out the obvious.

It had nothing to do with his team's youth and inexperience, yet at the same time it had everything to do with just that.

"The truth is we're not good enough to shoot 16-of-28 from the foul line, turn it over 17 times - in particular, turnovers that lead directly to baskets - and win,'' Huggins said.

He could have added a few more: Shooting 2-of-12 on 3-pointers, failing to convert on most of their 21 offensive rebounds (just five points on 10 in the second half) and defensive lapses.

The hard truth, though, is that those are some of the things these Mountaineers are going to have to deal with - perhaps all season long, but certainly early in a campaign in which the schedule provides few scrimmage-like atmospheres in which to work on smoothing out the kinks.

The hope is that tonight will be one of those rare opportunities. West Virginia (1-1) jumps back into action with a 7 p.m. home game against Alcorn State, a team that won just four games a year ago and is under a first-year head coach with more than half its roster consisting of newcomers.

It is a chance not only to work on some deficiencies, but to perhaps regain a little bit of lost confidence.

"This is not the end of the season,'' forward Kevin Jones said after the Mountaineers became the first Big East team to lose a game this season (the league was 31-2 going into Wednesday night's games). "But we have to get some things worked out fast.''

Jones, who through the first two games of the season is averaging 17.5 points and 13 rebounds, isn't willing to play the youth card. He knows that on West Virginia's roster only he, forward Deniz Kilicli and guard Truck Bryant have ever gone through a Division I schedule. Of the other seven players who saw action against Kent State, six are true freshmen and one is a redshirt freshman.

"I don't want to use the excuse of having a young team,'' Jones said after scoring 15 points and grabbing a career-high 18 rebounds Tuesday. "But there are some points where these guys play like upperclassmen and some points where they play like freshmen. We have to get it to the point where it's more consistent.''

Indeed, several of the freshmen have shown flashes that they will be able to develop quickly. Point guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne each have had moments for brief stretches in which they played like veterans. Aaron Brown came off the bench and provided some instant offense for a brief time against Kent State. Keaton Miles has obviously been impressive enough in practice to earn starts in the first two games, but has yet to show much on the floor.

The hard part, though, is putting those performances together for an entire game and getting more than one of the newcomers at a time to do that.

"So many things can go wrong and they have for us,'' said Kilicli, who had 11 points and 15 rebounds Tuesday. "We have to keep working on them, not just the freshmen but all of us.''

As for Alcorn State, the Braves will be opening their season tonight, sort of. Last Saturday, Alcorn trounced Blue Mountain College, an NAIA school in Mississippi, 76-39. Blue Mountain considers the game an exhibition, but Alcorn State - which did not charge admission to the home game - now lists its record as 1-0.

The Braves are under first-year coach Luther Riley, a successful high school coach in Mississippi. Only four players return from a season ago, but one is Marquiz Baker, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard who was second in the SWAC in scoring a year ago at 15.9 points per game. Kendrick McDonald, a point guard, averaged 10.2 points per game.

Alcorn had five double-figure scorers in its game against Blue Mountain and four were by newcomers, including 17 points from 6-5 freshman guard JaMichael Hawkins.

BRIEFLY: It appears that prior to Jones and Kilicli on Tuesday, the last time two WVU players had as many as 15 rebounds each in the same game was 1978, when Maurice Robinson had 16 and Sid Bostick 15 in a win over Marshall at the Coliseum. That game was noteworthy in that it was the first between the teams in nearly 50 years.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com.


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