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Mountaineers top Tennessee Tech

AP Photo
WVU's Paul Williamson scrambles for the ball with Tennessee Tech's Zac Swansey (left) and Dennis Ogbe (top).

MORGANTOWN - Kevin Jones has now played five of West Virginia's last six games without making a 3-point shot. Only when he dropped in a pair against Kansas State - one of which sent that one into overtime - did he score from long range.

It's becoming increasingly obvious, though, that at least in the early part of the Mountaineers' schedule, getting production from Jones around the basket and not from the perimeter is all WVU needs.

The 6-foot-8 senior scored 25 points and grabbed 14 rebounds - his sixth double-double in 10 games - and West Virginia used another big second half to cruise to a 72-53 win over Tennessee Tech Monday night at the Coliseum.

In other words, Jones might not be getting his points the way he has always gotten them - mostly on mid-range jump shots and those 3-pointers - but he is expanding his game while contracting the range from which he gets his points.

And that's fine with just about everyone concerned.

"He'll make shots,'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said after winning his 699th game as a college coach. "He works too hard not to make shots.''

For right now, though, those shots are coming from around the basket. That's not something Jones has always been adept at doing. Even with his size, his mid-range and perimeter games were always his forte. But this season he has become a legitimate force around the basket, which is exactly what the Mountaineers need.

"I see him every day. I know he can make his outside shots,'' said teammate Truck Bryant. "But honestly, he doesn't need to make [3-pointers] as long as he's scoring inside and rebounding like he is. When he does that, he's giving us a lot.''

Monday night's win, West Virginia's fourth in a row and seventh in the last eight games, gives the Mountaineers (8-2) a bit of momentum heading into the meat of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic. Monday's win, and another two days earlier against Texas A&M Corpus Christi, were preliminary games in the event, which now moves to the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

There, on Thursday and Friday, West Virginia will face Missouri State and then unbeaten and No. 6 Baylor, respectively. Thursday's game is an 8 p.m. (EST) start and will be available on the internet at ESPN3.com. The Friday game with Baylor is a 9 p.m. tipoff and will be televised on ESPN.

Tennessee Tech, which also moves on to Las Vegas in a different bracket, fell to 6-5 and saw its three-game win streak snapped.

In recording the 17th double-double of his career, Jones once again did so without a 3-pointer. He has 84 3s in his career and had six in the first four games this season, but since then has gone 2-for-19 on long-range shots.

That really doesn't matter, though, when Jones continues to dominate inside. He entered Monday's game second in the Big East in both scoring (20.3) and rebounding (11.0), both career highs.

And if past performance is any indication, Jones' struggles from outside are only temporary. At least he doesn't seem concerned.

"I don't find it alarming because my shots have all felt good,'' Jones said. "My teammates are getting me the ball in the right spots, whether it's inside or outside. I just haven't made the outside shots. But I'll keep shooting a couple every game and they'll come. I don't worry about that.''

Against Tennessee Tech, Jones had just enough help to allow the Mountaineers to overcome another slow start and dominate the second half, even with very little help from the newcomers in the freshman class who make up most of the roster. Bryant had 15 points, Deniz Kilicli 12 and walk-on Paul Williamson once again came off the bench to add a first-half spark with a couple of 3-pointers.

Tech got 15 points from Jud Dillard and 10 from Zach Bailey.

Leading by just seven, 33-26, to start the second half, West Virginia mainly went inside to score and increase its lead to double figures in the first few minutes. Five minutes into the second half the lead was up to 13, by the 10-minute mark it was 18, and a few moments later it was in the 20s and any suspense was gone.

For the third game in a row, West Virginia struggled at the start, allowing Tennessee Tech to grab an early 4-1 lead, and played on basically even terms with a less-talented opponent throughout the first nine or so minutes. It was one of the Mountaineers' least-heralded players, though, who finally broke the spell.

WVU led just 12-10 when Williamson nailed his first 3-pointer from the right wing. Forty seconds later he dropped in another. And then when freshman Gary Browne added a couple of free throws, that lead was up to 20-10 and the Mountaineers had breathing room they would not relinquish.

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


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