NEW YORK - For a half, at least, West Virginia seemed to have solved its shooting woes Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Mountaineers made 12 of their first 18 shots, hitting both inside and outside.
And after cooling off to start the second half, another hot streak followed later when freshman Terry Henderson began to rain down 3-pointers. All this from a team that through the first eight games was shooting 39 percent, or No. 308 nationally. It was uncanny, really.
Guess what those hot streaks got the Mountaineers, though. Nothing.
A Michigan team with few, if any, apparent weaknesses tossed even a hot-shooting WVU team around Saturday night in the Winter Hoops Festival. John Beilein's first contest against the team he coached for five years wasn't really much of a contest at all.
And so after the 81-66 loss - a game in which West Virginia clawed back from 17- and 18-point deficits in each half to make things at least competitive - WVU coach Bob Huggins wasn't much interested in talking about how well his team shot the ball in brief spurts. He preferred to focus on everything that didn't happen.
"I'm not as much worried about shooting as I am about playing,'' a feisty Huggins said after the loss, correctly pointing out that his team didn't grab a single rebound in the first seven minutes of the game and opining that it might not have made a single defensive stop.
What really got his dander up was the way his team competed at times. Not everyone, but enough that he was continually making lineup changes.
"We put some guys in who competed,'' Huggins said. "And we took some guys out who didn't.''
One of the guys Huggins took out he actually took out Friday. Center Aaric Murray didn't even make the trip to New York for the game and afterward an animated Huggins - while not specifically disclosing Murray's transgression - made it known he wouldn't tolerate any more.
"I've left guys home that are way, way, way better than Aaric Murray,'' Huggins said. "I've sent a couple of guys home after we got [to games] that are way, way, way better than Aaric Murray. Honestly, did we miss him? I don't think we did. And if he doesn't do right in the future we won't miss him in the future.''
Of course, Huggins also didn't like the way Deniz Kilicli competed and limited him to just nine minutes. Jabarie Hinds played only nine, as well.
In their stead, Henderson performed very well, scoring a career-high 23 points. Fellow freshman Eron Harris and sophomore Juwan Staten added 10 points each.
But after that 12-for-18 start, the Mountaineers made just eight of their final 34 and shot a very normal 38.5 percent. While Huggins will insist that effort, more than shooting, was the difference in the outcome, that certainly had a hand in it.
Michigan, meanwhile, shot 56 percent for the game, which isn't unusual. Point guard Trey Burke was magnificent, scoring 25 points and handing out eight assists with no turnovers. Tim Hardaway Jr. added 25 points for the Wolverines.
The loss dropped West Virginia (4-5) below .500 again, the Mountaineers' worst start since the 10-19 team of 1998-99 also started 4-5. That was a team that had lost six seniors from a Sweet 16 team the year before.
Michigan, meanwhile, continued its early-season domination. The Wolverines (11-0) have matched the best start in school history. The only other UM team that got off to an 11-0 start won the national championship in 1989.
Save for West Virginia's extraordinary shooting for a long stretch of the first half, it seemed apparent right from the outset that Michigan would have little trouble with the Mountaineers. The Wolverines led 13-2 and 19-4 before crawling out to their biggest lead of the first half from there, 24-7.
At that point, West Virginia stunningly had gotten not a single rebound. Of course, there weren't many to get, what with both teams shooting over 50 percent, but that statistic said volumes about the way the game was going.
WVU's uncanny shooting, though, left the Mountaineers in the game for a while. With freshmen Henderson and Harris combining for 19 first-half points and the Wolverines perhaps losing a bit of interest, West Virginia slowly crept back.
When Henderson scored seven in a row, capped by a 3-pointer, the margin was all the way back down to five, 32-27.
But in the closing minutes of the half, after keeping it interesting a while longer, West Virginia missed its last four shots and Michigan led 43-32 at the break.
Then things fell apart once and for all when the Mountaineers reverted to their normal shooting form to start the second half. They missed seven of their first eight shots, and Michigan started on an 11-2 run.
Henderson caught fire at around the six-minute mark and somehow got the Mountaineers to within 71-64, but no closer.
On the plus side for West Virginia, the game marked the end of one of the oddest early-season schedules for the school in quite a while. After nine games, the Mountaineers have played only two at the Coliseum and have had idle stretches of 10 and seven days and other times with three games in four days and four in 11.
Now West Virginia returns home to play those games that might normally have come in November - three straight at the Coliseum against Oakland, Radford and Eastern Kentucky, beginning with Oakland Wednesday.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
Michigan 81, West Virginia 66
WEST VIRGINIA (4-5)
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