PITTSBURGH - The same problem that plagued West Virginia through the first seven games of its season did not go away Tuesday night against Duquesne. The Mountaineers once again shot the ball miserably.
This time, though, WVU added a new, ugly twist to the script. The Mountaineers didn't make up for their offensive ineptitude with defensive aggression. And they paid a huge price.
West Virginia saw its three-game win streak snapped Tuesday night in the worst possible way - losing both a 15-point lead and the game, 60-56, to an average Duquesne team in front of a sparse crowd (officially 6,244 but not really) at the Consol Energy Center.
The Dukes overcame that 15-point deficit in the final 19 minutes and climbed out of an 11-point hole in the final 121/2. They did it by stymying WVU's offense on one end and converting the Mountaineers' bad or missed shots into transition baskets on the other end. WVU was also beaten on the boards 43-39 by the smaller Dukes.
"We didn't get back on defense, we didn't rebound, we didn't do anything,'' said forward Matt Humphrey, who saw his most extensive action and scored 10 points. "Not making shots is one thing. That happens. But those other things, that's not the way we're supposed to play basketball at West Virginia.''
Indeed, the Mountaineers (4-4) have overcome a lack of shooting accuracy before. They were shooting just 39.8 percent through seven games and still won four times by defending and occasionally converting turnovers into points.
Against Duquesne, WVU shot 33.3 percent and missed 14 of 18 3-point tries, but compounded that by not getting back on defense after all those misses. Duquesne had 18 fast-break points and made a living off of it during every rally the Dukes made in the game. When Duquesne finally started making shots in the second half (53.6 percent), its momentum just snowballed.
"We took some bad shots and we were horrible in transition,'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "The truth is, you've got to give [Duquesne] credit. We gave them open shots and they made them. We had open shots and didn't make them.''
Despite all that, West Virginia seemed more than once to be on the verge of blowing the game open. After an awful start by both teams, Gary Browne sparked a WVU surge in the first half that enabled the Mountaineers to open their first 15-point lead, 25-10. They matched it with the first basket of the second half to go up 38-23 and still had a 45-34 edge at around the 12-minute mark.
A few times WVU had the ball with a chance to add to those leads but couldn't convert in transition - the kind of shots that have saved the Mountaineers when they couldn't shoot in the half court.
"We had every opportunity to blow the game open,'' Huggins said. "The truth is we did create some offense with our defense, but we didn't finish. We probably could have been up 20.''
As it was, Duquesne kept chipping away by taking West Virginia misses and running with them, scoring on the fly. And when the Dukes couldn't score in transition they backed out and usually got drives to the basket. Derrick Colter scored on two of those to break a 53-all tie at under two minutes and WVU never regained the lead.
Juwan Staten scored 13 points for WVU, while Browne and Humphrey had 10 each. But Staten and Browne had 10 each at halftime and combined for just three the second half.
Duquesne got 16 points from Jerry Jones off the bench, 12 in the second half and most during the Dukes' comeback. Colter had 12 points and the eventual game-winning layups.
So many things could have saved West Virginia from blowing all those leads, primarily getting back on defense. But the Mountaineers also suffered from their inability to rebound. Had they generated a few more second shots or denied Duquesne a few, things might have been different.
"If we don't make shots we have to rebound,'' said Browne, a guard who can usually be counted on to crash the boards but had just two rebounds Tuesday. "By the end of the season, we're going to start making shots. I know that. But until that happens we have to do everything else right and that includes rebounding.''
The loss does not bode well for the Mountaineers going forward, given that a loss to Duquesne will be followed by Saturday's game against John Beilein and Michigan at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The Wolverines are 10-0 and ranked No. 3 in the nation.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
Duquesne 60, West Virginia 56
WEST VIRGINIA (4-4)
M FG FT R A P
Deniz Kilicli 33 3-8 0-2 5 1 6
Aaric Murray 13 1-4 0-0 4 1 2
Juwan Staten 38 5-16 3-4 2 4 13
Jabarie Hinds 20 1-7 2-2 1 1 4