PISCATAWAY, N.J. - A season ago, it was one of West Virginia's best weapons. These days it's little more than a stop gap.
Still, the 1-3-1 zone defense was a big part of West Virginia's 65-54 win over Rutgers Sunday afternoon at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
"To be honest, we were just trying to burn some clock with it,'' coach Bob Huggins said.
And it worked.
No, the 1-3-1 that the Mountaineers run these days is nothing compared to what it was a season ago when 6-foot-9 Devin Ebanks was at the top and long-armed Da'Sean Butler and Wellington Smith were part of the middle line.
On Sunday, Huggins pulled point guard Truck Bryant and inserted Dalton Pepper specifically to man the point. In the middle were John Flowers, Kevin Jones and Cam Thoroughman, and at the back end was Joe Mazzulla. That lineup has neither the length nor the athleticism of last year's group.
Here's what it accomplished, though: Because the Mountaineers had not used the defense to that point, it threw Rutgers off just a bit. The Knights still actually got good shots against the zone, but took longer to do so and when the shots came, the Knights weren't in their same offensive rhythm having been disoriented by the new defense.
"I think it just throws teams off and messes up their whole mindset as much as it does anything else,'' said Thoroughman. "They still got two good looks, but they aren't the shots they usually get in their offense. I think it just takes them out of their rhythm.''
Indeed, Rutgers had good looks against the 1-3-1, which didn't often happen last year. West Virginia went to it just after Mazzulla made two free throws with 2:29 to play to put WVU ahead 55-52. On the Knights' next two possessions, James Beatty and Jonathan Mitchell each had wide-open 3-point looks, Beatty from the key and Mitchell from the corner.
Both missed, as did 12 of Rutgers' 13 3-point tries in the game. The Knights aren't usually a bad 3-point shooting team, ranking in the top half of the Big East at just under 35 percent.
And then on the possession that put a nail in RU's coffin, the Knights had three shots - a layup, a follow shot and another 3-pointer by Coburn. All missed, and then Gilvydas Biruta got another rebound, turned and knocked down Thoroughman and was called for the charge.
Again, though, it wasn't the effectiveness of the 1-3-1 in preventing Rutgers from scoring that was the point. It was to make the Knights work harder with time running out.
"The one thing that the 1-3-1 has done for us over the years is that people don't score quick against it,'' Huggins said. "It's not that they don't get shots. They've always gotten shots. But it takes time.
"We went man-to-man once and they took it down and shot a layup and took them about five seconds. They can't do that against the 1-3-1.''
Sartorially speaking, Huggins was all over the map Sunday.
He began the game in a suit, just as he had worn three nights earlier in a loss at Pitt.
When he came out in the second half he was back in his black pullover.