MORGANTOWN - Juwan Staten has Dominique Rutledge pretty much pegged. Or at least he can sum him up quickly.
"Dom definitely has the talent,'' Staten, the West Virginia point guard, said of Rutledge. "But sometimes he's just in and out.''
Late Sunday afternoon, Rutledge was in. And because of that the Mountaineers survived a second-half scare and beat Eastern Kentucky 74-67 at the Coliseum.
Rutledge, WVU's immensely talented but often erratic 6-foot-8, 245-pound senior forward, made a handful of plays down the stretch that allowed West Virginia to overcome a two-point deficit. A career 39.5 percent free-throw shooter, he made five of six in the final five minutes, then took a charge with 80 seconds to play and his team up by four.
This from a guy who is averaging just three points and 3.3 rebounds and has played in just seven of WVU's 12 games. In the last four games, though, Rutledge is averaging 20 minutes per game, and over the last three is scoring 6.7 points. In the last four games he's averaged five rebounds. And on Sunday he had seven points, four rebounds and three blocked shots.
No, those aren't eye-popping statistics, but they are more than Rutledge was contributing while anchored to the bench, and they've made a difference as the Mountaineers have now won three in a row to get to 7-5 heading into Big 12 play.
"He's obviously [improving] or I wouldn't play him,'' coach Bob Huggins said of Rutledge. "He can make some plays. He can make some athletic plays that we don't have anybody else that can make.''
The charge Rutledge drew was perhaps the last straw in Eastern Kentucky's hopes for an upset. WVU led 68-64 at the time, but in a second half in which the Colonels shot 67 percent and made eight 3-pointers, that was precarious.
When Rutledge stepped over in front of a charging Orlando Williams, it gave the Mountaineers the ball and a chance to add to the lead and run some valuable clock. They did both, and EKU didn't get the ball back until 47 seconds remained and the margin was 70-64 on two Aaric Murray free throws.
Another 3-pointer by Glenn Cosey, who had five, made things interesting, but that was as close as the Colonels would get.
"I don't remember who it was, but somebody got beat and I just moved over,'' Rutledge said of taking the charge. "I didn't think I was going to get there in time, but I did.''
That the game ultimately turned on a foul was not unexpected. There were a lot of those. West Virginia scored 16 of its final 18 points from the free-throw line and finished the game 32 of 39 from there. Guards Gary Browne and Staten, who each had 17 points, combined to make 19 of 20 from the line.
Still, Huggins was not in the best of moods afterward. West Virginia had played well in the first half and built leads of as many as 16 points. But the Colonels, coached by former John Beilein assistant Jeff Neubauer, didn't quit. They did a better job of penetrating and kicking out to open shooters in the second half and made the shots. They clawed back until Morgantown native Ryan Parsons came off the bench and made a 3 to tie the game at 61 with 4:39 to play and then took a brief two-point lead after that.
"I thought we kind of looked like my team there in the first half,'' Huggins said. "And as soon as I started thinking that, they come out and let them shoot 67 percent in the second half.''
In all the Colonels made 11 3-pointers and got 21 points from Cosey and 10 each from Mike DiNunno and Williams. They also turned the ball over just 13 times against West Virginia's half-court pressure.
Neubauer said the experience would certainly help his team, which is 10-3 but has not played a taxing schedule save for a game against Illinois.
"This has to help us,'' Neubauer said. "If it doesn't, then I'm not a very good coach.''
West Virginia now has nearly a week off before Saturday's start of Big 12 play. That will come with a visit from Oklahoma, a 4 p.m. game at the Coliseum.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1
West Virginia 74, Eastern Kentucky 67
EASTERN KENTUCKY (10-3)
M FG FT R A P
Deverin Muff 8 1-1 0-0 2 0 2
Eric Stutz 29 1-3 3-4 8 4 5