MORGANTOWN - As it turns out, West Virginia had little trouble getting started Tuesday morning in its odd 10 a.m. game with Kent State.
Finishing it, though, was another matter entirely.
The Mountaineers led for virtually the entire first half and the opening minutes of the second, building leads of as many as eight points.
But when Kent State sped up the pace, WVU had no answer and was dominated during the final 15 minutes.
The result was a 70-60 loss by WVU in ESPN's College Hoops Tip-off Marathon at the Coliseum.
"We made silly turnovers. We were playing too fast,'' forward Kevin Jones said. "They sped us up and we didn't do anything to stop it.''
The loss was West Virginia's first after an opening win against Oral Roberts last Friday night. Kent State, the preseason favorite in the Mid-American Conference, won in its opener.
Jones and Deniz Kilicli each recorded double-doubles for the Mountaineers, but that was about all WVU got. In a game in which the Mountaineers dominated the boards 46-31, Jones had 15 points and 18 rebounds and Kilicli had 11 points and 15 boards.
Freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds had 13 points, three assists and three steals. Truck Bryant added 12 points but also committed six of West Virginia's 17 turnovers.
The bottom line for the Mountaineers, though, was the same as it promises to be for at least much of the early part of the season. With Jones, Kilicli and Bryant the only veterans, this is a team that will likely struggle against good teams until more of the newcomers step forward and contribute.
The problems are magnified when all three of WVU's experienced players don't play well. Jones and Kilicli were fine but Bryant, at least on this day, was not, missing nine of his 13 shots and going 4-for-7 at the free-throw line in addition to his six turnovers and just one assist.
"It's hard to play three-on-five. We'd be pretty good three-on-three, I think,'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "You can say we outrebounded them. No, we didn't. Deniz and K.J. did. They had 33 of our 46. It would be nice if somebody else helped us.''
Kent State, meanwhile, had plenty of help. A team that returns the player of the year, the defensive player of the year and the sixth man of the year in the Mid-American Conference - all told there are four starters back from a 25-12 team - just kept plugging away. After falling behind 14-6 at the start and trailing for all but 13 seconds of the game's first 25 minutes, the Golden Flashes turned it on.
How? They began getting a few rebounds, making shots and forcing turnovers. They outscored WVU 19-4 to erase a 41-36 deficit and take a 55-45 lead and never looked back.
"I thought if we could get out in transition we'd have a chance,'' said first-year Kent State coach Rob Senderoff. "But the only rebounds we were getting were the ones after their shots went through the basket. Every time they had a chance to get back and set their defense and we were in a half-court game.
"If you have to play 40 minutes in the half court against West Virginia, you're not going to be too successful most of the time.''
The Golden Flashes, though, only had to play a half that way. At the start of the second half they began getting just enough on the boards to speed up the pace. Throw in WVU's turnovers and poor shot selection and it was a recipe for Kent success. After being rebounded 27-12 in the first half, the numbers were even (19-19) in the second.
West Virginia also didn't take advantage of the rebounds it was getting. The Mountaineers, for example, had 21 offensive rebounds but just 16 second-chance points, respectable but not overwhelming. Kilicli had 15 rebounds, six of them on the offensive end, but missed seven of his 10 shots from the floor.
"That was far and away Deniz's best game,'' Huggins said. "He just didn't make any shots.''
Nor did the Mountaineers as a whole. They shot 36.8 percent overall, missed 10 of their 12 3-pointers and bricked 12 (out of 28) free throws. Jones and Bryant were a combined 0-for-7 on 3-pointers and 7-for-13 on foul shots.
Carlton Guyton, the MAC's sixth man of the year last season, led Kent State with 17 points and four assists. Michael Porrini, the MAC's defensive player of the year, had 11 points, five rebounds and three assists. MAC player of the year Justin Greene had 12 points and eight rebounds and Randal Hoyt made three of Kent's five 3-pointers. The Golden Flashes shot 47.5 percent, including 58.1 percent (18-of-31) in the second half.
West Virginia has a quick turnaround now before its next game, Thursday night at home against Alcorn State. That should be an opportunity to work out some kinks. After facing the preseason favorites in the Summit League (Oral Roberts) and the MAC the first two games of the season, Alcorn was picked to finish ninth in the 100-team SWAC.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com.
Kent State 70, West Virginia 60
Kent State (1-0)
Player FG FT R A P
Justin Greene 6-12 0-1 8 1 12