MORGANTOWN - There were times Wednesday night when the game West Virginia and Seton Hall were playing at the Coliseum resembled basketball in only cursory ways.
Both teams shot the ball, but they didn't always seem to be shooting it at the rim. The Pirates hoisted at least eight that never touched iron. The two teams combined to miss all but five of their 35 3-point attempts.
They dribbled it, but at times merely off their own feet. In one three-second stretch - that's three seconds The Hall's Herb Pope bounced it off his own foot and then WVU's John Flowers aimed a pass at Kevin Jones' Nike.
They scored on occasion, but often it was difficult, like when the Pirates missed 12 of 13 shots to end the first half. The Mountaineers tried to one-up them once and pretty much succeeded, going 1-for-6 shooting on a single possession.
So it was no wonder that when all was said and done and West Virginia still managed a fairly easy 56-44 win over the Pirates, few were satisfied. Yes, it was a win for the No. 25 Mountaineers, but it was nothing to gloat about.
"When things seemingly get to going good,'' coach Bob Huggins said rather succinctly, "we have to screw it up just to get back to being us.''
Here's the thing, though: Even with a rather ugly win, West Virginia suddenly finds itself in rather rarified air. This team is now 15-6 overall, but more importantly 6-3 in the Big East and tied for second place in the deepest, most talented league in the land.
But was this performance really all that poor? Well, it depends on the perspective.
"I think because we've set such a high standard the last two weeks [it is deceiving],'' said point guard Joe Mazzulla, referring to the passing and defense and teamwork the Mountaineers have displayed while trying to play through suspensions and defections with just eight scholarship players. "We got away from that at the end [against Seton Hall], but I think it looked worse than what it was because we just weren't knocking down open jumpers.''
True, a shot here or there would have made a world of difference. As it was, the Mountaineers took a 16-point halftime lead, stretched it to as many as two-dozen points in the second half and then withstood a mild Seton Hall rally. The Pirates, who at one point in the game were shooting 21.9 percent, put together an 11-0 run in the final minutes just to make things interesting.
Still, the closest they got was nine points, so there was never really much danger that those in the crowd of 9,729 who had already left would miss anything.
There were also good things about this win - about any Big East win, particularly against a team whose most recent road game was a 22-point win over then-No. 9 Syracuse. That the Pirates were held to just 44 points was not a product simply of awful shooting.
"We do guard pretty good,'' said Huggins, whose team held scoring machine Jeremy Hazell to five points on 1-of-8 shooting. Hazell scored 41 against West Virginia in a game last season and also had games of 29 and 30 against the Mountaineers.
West Virginia also played enough good offense to essentially put the game away before the lull at the end.
Kevin Jones had a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds and scored his 1,000th career point. Deniz Kilicli added 10 points and, most surprising of all, fifth-year senior Cam Thoroughman scored in double figures (10) for the first time in his career in the easy win.
"He can shoot the ball. He was recruited here as a scorer,'' Mazzulla said of Thoroughman, who scored six of his 10 points on jumpers ranging from 14 to 20 feet. "I don't think we're going to be running any plays for him, but he can score when we need it.''
With Mazzulla, Dalton Pepper and Truck Bryant going a combined 2-for-16 from the floor, this was a night when it was needed. Seton Hall certainly could have used the lift Thoroughman's 5-for-7 shooting gave WVU.
"They're a terrific defensive team and they're hard-nosed. We knew we were going to struggle to score,'' said first-year Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard. "But I didn't think we were going to struggle that much.''
Seton Hall (10-13, 4-7) saw a two-game win streak snapped.
Now the real work starts for West Virginia. Since an 0-2 start to Big East play, the Mountaineers are 6-1 in the league. They are now in a four-way tie for second place in the league with Notre Dame, Louisville and Villanova.
But beginning Saturday at No. 12 Villanova, seven of the Mountaineers' final nine games are against teams in the Top 25, four of them against top-10 teams. After Villanova comes a Big Monday home game against No. 4 Pitt. There are also games against No. 6 UConn, No. 9 Notre Dame, No. 15 Louisville, No. 17 Syracuse and a rematch with Pitt.
The only games against teams outside the Top 25 remaining are a week from Saturday at home with DePaul and Feb. 26 at Rutgers.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.
West Virginia 56, Seton Hall 44
Seton Hall (10-13, 4-7)
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