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Not much suspense in this Mountaineer rout

Dale Sparks
Kevin Jones led the Mountaineers with 24 points and 14 rebounds.

MORGANTOWN - If one can color West Virginia's football blowout of Clemson orange, maybe Truck Bryant's shoes appropriately symbolized the Mountaineers' 84-60 Big East basketball rout of Rutgers on Saturday at the Coliseum.

It wasn't the virtuoso performance of the Orange Bowl, but it was canary-yellow close.

Before an announced crowd of 13,820, West Virginia, now 13-5 overall and 4-2 in Big East play, landed a first-half haymaker, assumed a 48-22 halftime lead and sailed to the second rout of Rutgers in 10 days.

The decisive victory couldn't have come at a better time for WVU coach Bob Huggins. About 100 former Mountaineer players - which, remember, includes Huggins - were in the building for the annual reunion. Players like Lowes Moore, Dale Blaney, Darryl Prue, P.G. Greene, Jarrod West, Damian Owens and Mike Boyd showed.

And so did West Virginia's basketball team. In a big way.

The fortunate signs were plentiful early for the Mountaineers. Bryant - the scoring machine or provoker of head shakes - hit his first 3-point attempt. When Bryant is on, WVU's chances rise substantially.

Rutgers entered with the hopes of bullying its way to a win. Early, forward Gilvydas Biruta fouled WVU's Deniz Kilicli - with fists clenched. Late, Rutgers' Jerome Seagears seemed to put Mountaineer standout Kevin Jones in a camel clutch on what was whistled an intentional foul. In between ... well, let's just say the idea was ill conceived.

Foul on Rutgers. And another. And another. Six in the game's first 4:17. In the end, WVU would have 41 free throw attempts to 20 for Rutgers.

RU coach Mike Rice was hit with a technical foul.

Other signs? How about a successful 19-foot jumper from Mountaineer starter Keaton Miles? How about when WVU guard Gary Browne lost the ball driving the lane - and then scooped it up when it was tipped to him? Result: layup.

The only questions of suspense near the end of the first half were 1) Would WVU's Jones, who started off slowly, hit his league-leading scoring average? 2) Would Miles quadruple his season average of 1.2 points? and 3) Exactly how long has Jim Burr been officiating college ball? (The answers: yes, yes and 39 years.)

You could've found more suspense in the second half by reading a murder mystery from back to front.

WVU followers, however, can keep an eye on a couple products of the contest. First, the Mountaineers inched closer - although it's still very early - toward earning NCAA at-large status. They started the game rated anywhere from 13 to 20 in the Rating Percentage Index reproductions out there - with what was generally agreed upon as the nation's second-toughest schedule behind that of Duke.

Also keep an eye on Miles. Bryant was asked afterward what sparked the rout.

"Keaton Miles," he said flatly.

Miles, of course, has started all season for Huggins, with extremely limited results. On Saturday, though, he hit that 19-foot jumper, dropped one from 15 feet from the left baseline and nicely followed a Deniz Kilicli missed hooked shot for a score. He finished with six points on 3-of-4 shooting, a whopping seven assists and four rebounds. OK, so not Kevin Durant numbers, but, hey, Huggins finally saw progress.

"He's made shots in practice," Huggins said. "We've tried to explain shot readiness and balance. On tape, when [the freshmen] make shots, they're balanced."

"Coach Huggins said, 'Keaton, you can shoot. I just don't want you shooting off-balance,' " Miles said.

Miles said he's received encouragement all season from his teammates.

"They said, 'You can shoot,' " Miles said. "I do it in practice. It helps they have confidence in me."

The 6-foot-6, 205-pound freshman said it's been a process to feel as comfortable in the Coliseum as in open gym.

"It just comes with time and the coaches being patient with me," Miles said.

The Dallas product said his slow start did place him in a funk.

"I was going through a slump," Miles said. "When you do that, you get in the gym and work. But we have a good support system here. I fed off that to say, 'Yes, I can.' "

Finally, he did.

"Keaton was very aggressive," said Jones. "We need him to be very aggressive. He can do more than play defense. He can shoot the ball and is gaining more confidence."

WVU's team is playing with more confidence, and it's showing on the stat sheet. WVU entered the game ranked No. 4 in the Big East in scoring at 74.9 points and, after the victory, bumped that average to 75.4. It was likewise No. 4 in field goal percentage and remains a 46.5 percent shooting team.

Defensively, the Mountaineers helped their cause. Starting the day No. 12 in scoring defense (66.0 point average), WVU is now at 65.7. The defensive field goal percentage number dropped a bit to 43.7 percent.

The only Mountaineer stat to be adversely affected was free throw percentage. Even in a rout, WVU can't get that right. After starting the game dead last in the Big East in free throw shooting at 64.2 percent, the team converted just 23 of those 41 attempts (56.1 percent) and is now at 63.5 percent for the season.

This WVU victory, however, was one for the team and fans to savor. Almost all went right. Even Final Four team member John Flowers returned as part of the reunion.

And even that was perfect.

When the camera captured him, Flowers, known for his dancing as well as defense, stood up, waved to the crowd - and did "The Dougie."

The crowd roared.

As the home team rolled.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

 


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