MORGANTOWN - Along with the rest of West Virginia's basketball team, John Flowers was able to be fairly realistic about the Mountaineers' offensive performance in Saturday's 82-71 win over DePaul at the Coliseum.
In other words, he appreciated the vast improvement without getting too carried away with it.
"We got whatever we wanted,'' Flowers said of West Virginia's offensive efficiency. "But they're certainly not the best defensive team in the league.''
Indeed, DePaul is not the best defensive team in the Big East. Statistically, in fact, the Blue Demons are dead last. That a team that is surrendering an average of more than 77 points per game in league play gave up 82 is not stunning in and of itself.
Still, given the way West Virginia has struggled to produce any sort of offense of late, no one was scoffing at this performance, which included 53 percent shooting, assists on more than 80 percent of the field goals and productivity both inside and out.
It was, in short, a breath of fresh air, not to mention a feat that all involved hope bodes well for the future.
"We just need to keep playing that way,'' said shooting guard Casey Mitchell. "When we make good passes and move the ball we usually win. When we move the ball we're one of the best teams in the conference. When we don't move the ball and just shoot we're not very good.''
After suffering through an awful last few weeks of the season without making shots, West Virginia made plenty against the Blue Demons. The Mountaineers did it early by working for easy inside shots, used a little bit of confidence to extend that out to the 3-point line and pretty much dominated DePaul.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for No. 25 West Virginia (16-8, 7-5 Big East), which now faces a quick turnaround for Monday night's game against No. 12 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.
For DePaul (6-18, 0-12), the loss was yet another that extended a string of unenviable streaks. The Blue Demons have now lost 24 straight Big East games, 29 in a row on the road and 27 consecutive against ranked teams.
West Virginia, which had not shot 50 percent or better since beating DePaul in Chicago on Jan. 4, was at no time below 50 percent in this one. The Mountaineers made their first two shots and eight of their first 11 in taking the lead from the start. They would go up by as many as 14 points in the first half and by 17 in the second.
As was the case in the first game between the teams, West Virginia let up at the end and allowed DePaul to get as close as seven in the final minutes, but was never in any real danger.
"When we got up on them we didn't put them away,'' Flowers said. "That was the negative.''
There were far more positives, though, especially in the first 20 minutes.
How well did West Virginia run its offense in the first half? Well, consider that even factoring in six missed shots in the last seven tries of the half, the Mountaineers still shot 55 percent, made 5-of-9 3-point tries (five of the first seven) and had a stunning 15 assists on 17 baskets (a combined eight by Cam Thoroughman and Joe Mazzulla).
In fact, at one point West Virginia had made 16 of its 24 shots (67 percent) in building a 42-28 lead, and by the end of the first half all eight players who saw action had scored between four and seven points. A team that had scored less than 30 points in the first half of five of its last eight games scored 47 in this half, its highest first-half total since the opener against Oakland. It was just three points shy of what WVU scored in a full game at Villanova last weekend.
Even in the second half West Virginia shot 50 percent. The only negative was allowing DePaul to shoot 62.5 percent over that span.
"The second half we just ran motion. We didn't run any sets,'' coach Bob Huggins said. "We've got to start guarding again, though. We aren't guarding very well.''
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the offensive performance was that it was not artificially propped up by one or two hot shooters or passers. To wit: Seven of the eight players who saw action for WVU scored between eight and 15 points, the high being Flowers' 15. Mazzulla finished with six assists, six rebounds and 12 points. Truck Bryant had six assists and 11 points. Deniz Kilicli got half of his 12 points on free throws, Mitchell sank two 3-pointers on his way to 11 points, Dalton Pepper and Kevin Jones combined for 17 points and Thoroughman finished with five assists and six rebounds.
DePaul was equally as balanced with six players between nine and 14 points, led by freshman Brandon Young's 14.
Now, though, comes the really difficult part, keeping that offensive production going against one of the Big East's best defenses, the 2-3 zone of Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.
"Obviously, confidence-wise, this is a boost,'' said Mazzulla. "But against the 2-3 zone we're going to have much more difficult shots.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.
WVU 82, DePaul 71
DePaul (6-18, 0-12)
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