LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Perhaps what West Virginia University's basketball team needed most was a game against Marist in the Old Spice Classic.
The title sponsor's commercial asks you to "believe in yoursmellf." The Mountaineers needed to believe after a 34-point shellacking at the hands of Gonzaga. And an 87-44 win over lightly regarded Marist at the HP Field House at ESPN Wide World of Sports may be just deodorant, but it has to help.
"I hope the confidence is there now," said WVU guard Jabarie Hinds afterward. "Our freshmen got going. Terry [Henderson] and Eron [Harris] had big games ... We started to hit shots - and that's a good thing."
Indeed, after a horrid shooting performance against the Zags, the Mountaineers (1-1) converted 52.9 percent from the field Thursday and 55.6 percent (5-of-9) from beyond the 3-point arc. Counting the exhibition game against Glenville, WVU was 4 for 40 before the game in the latter category.
Harris had 15 points and Henderson had 14 and six rebounds to lead the Mountaineers on offense. Five WVU players hit double figures, and only Hinds started. Defensively, WVU held the Red Foxes (1-3) to 27.1 percent shooting. The Mountaineers will now face Davidson at 12:30 p.m. today.
"A little bit of difference in the caliber of opponent," said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. "But we're better. We passed the ball better and reversed the ball a little bit better. I thought our on-the-ball pressure was better.
"We're playing so many guys, it just takes a little while. We need to play some games. It's a marathon, not a sprint. We've got 31 games and the conference tournament and the NCAA tournament, so we've got a lot of games to go."
Thursday's game was a bit different. Huggins started Kevin Noreen instead of Aaric Murray and Aaron Brown instead of Matt Humphrey. The former was a disciplinary move.
"[Murray] was late for practice, overslept and showed up a few minutes late," Huggins said. "We just don't do that."
When the 6-10 big man did enter the game, he was impressive. In 15 minutes of action, Murray scored 10 points, had five rebounds and blocked a shot.
But this one was over long before Murray entered.
In the first half, the Mountaineers applied fierce pressure against the Red Foxes on both ends of the court to take complete control.
Huggins ordered full-court, man-to-man defense to open the game. The Mountaineers' half-court defense then melted Marist, which had a whopping 15 turnovers in the first half.
Again, WVU began with a sluggish shooting performance, starting 2 of 8, but then started feeding off that defense. Humphrey had a steal and jam to give WVU a 7-6 lead and the rout was on.
Juwan Staten had an impressive move to the hoop. Mountaineers were diving on the floor. They were poking away balls. They hit 3 of 5 3-point attempts.
WVU hit 56.4 percent of its shots in the half, while holding Marist to 25 percent shooting both overall and in 3-point attempts. Score: 51-19 at the break.
In the second half, West Virginia built a 46-point lead with 12 seconds remaining before settling for the final. WVU had 40 points in the paint, 31 off turnovers, 14 second-chance points and 16 off fast breaks. The Mountaineers outscored the Red Foxes off the bench 61-24.
"Coach Huggins made some moves after that first game," Harris said. "He kicked us out of the locker room. We couldn't wear our practice gear. It made us come together. We're playing a little harder and more together. We're changing. I hope we can keep it up.
"My confidence has been up and down, but I'm starting to keep it up, be steady."
"Our defense was really into it the first half," Hinds said. "We forced bad shots and ran offense. We passed the ball as a team."
And WVU made shots.
"We're all right when that happens," Henderson said. "We're a good shooting team, a great shooting team, I think, and once we see each other making shots, we feed off that."
"Terry has played well," Huggins said. "Terry is very quickly working his way into the rotation. And he makes shots. In a scrimmage on Sunday, I thought he played really well.
"As everybody can see, Eron is a talented guy. It's just a matter of them understanding better what needs to go on."
In Davidson, WVU will play the Southern Conference preseason poll favorite and player of the year De'Mon Brooks. The Wildcats are now 2-2. They handily defeated Emory, but fell at New Mexico by 86-81 and at UW-Milwaukee by 73-68 before Thursday's win.
"I've seen Davidson because they were on that [ESPN] 24 Hours of Basketball," Huggins said. "I know Bob [McKillop] can really coach."
The WVU-Davidson game will be aired on ESPN.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvin...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.
at Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
WEST VIRGINIA (1-1)