MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Bob Huggins hacked and coughed his way through 10 minutes of postgame interviews Wednesday night, sounding as if his next stop should be Ruby Memorial or Mon General.
Nothing unusual there, though. Shoot, his team had just done the same thing through the first 10 minutes of its game with VMI at the Coliseum.
The difference was that after 10 minutes Huggins could quit, go home and try to get rid of whatever it is that ails him right now. His West Virginia basketball team didn't have that option.
Oddly enough, though, the Mountaineers kept playing and got much better. It was odd because everything seemed to point toward an entirely different outcome.
West Virginia overcame not only its horrid start but also injuries to three players and foul trouble that eliminated another. All of that decimated WVU's front line, but the Mountaineers still managed to run away and hide from VMI, winning 94-69 in front of a crowd of 7,531 at the Coliseum.
The Mountaineers (2-3) got 18 points from transfer point guard Juwan Staten and double-figure scoring from six players in all in snapping a two-game losing streak and avoiding a 1-4 start for the first time since before World War I. They now have a week off before the annual battle with Marshall at the Charleston Civic Center.
As it turns out, perhaps all the injuries and foul trouble were just what WVU needed. It forced Huggins to play a smaller lineup, and those groupings managed to run the Keydets ragged. Even Huggins admitted that his team was probably fortunate to be forced into a smaller lineup.
"It was happenstance,'' he said. "We had to go to a smaller lineup and it worked.''
So what did West Virginia have to overcome? Well, for starters there was a simply atrocious start to the game, during which the Mountaineers missed six of their first nine shots, four of them layups by four different players. They also turned the ball over twice during that opening stretch and committed five fouls. That WVU trailed 11-6 at that point was no surprise.
But what really affected the game concerned personnel, all involving frontcourt players. Two of those early fouls were in the first 135 seconds on Deniz Kilicli, who sat down for the rest of the half. Shortly thereafter two of WVU's frontcourt backups, Dominique Rutledge and Kevin Noreen, left the game with injuries and never returned. Small forward Matt Humphrey was already out with a bad shoulder.
That left West Virginia essentially with a roster of guards, wings and transfer center Aaric Murray. But that was exactly what the Mountaineers needed to fight VMI's smaller lineup and free-wheeling style.
The end result was that WVU immediately went on a 24-4 run after falling behind by that 11-6 score and never looked back. That gave the Mountaineers a 15-point lead, which they stretched to 19 before the end of the first half, 30 early in the second and 36 before VMI closed the game with an inconsequential 11-0 run.
Murray finished with 13 points, guard Gary Browne and forward Keaton Miles 11 and freshmen Terry Henderson and Eron Harris 10 each for WVU. Kilicli even bounced back to score 13. The Mountaineers shot 45.1 percent, held a 52-44 rebounding edge and committed only eight turnovers.
How all those injuries might affect West Virginia going forward is unknown. Huggins didn't know the status of either Noreen or Rutledge, although he said keeping Humphrey out was more of a precaution.
The positives, of course, were the depth West Virginia showed after all those injuries, as well as the big game from Staten. Through WVU's 1-3 start, the sophomore was averaging just nine points and had a total of only six assists. Against VMI he had seven rebounds, three assists and made seven of his 10 shots to go along with his 18 points.
"With every game I feel like I get more confident out there,'' said Staten.
"He played a lot better,'' Huggins said. "We need him to push the ball and he did that. He looked up the floor better. He was better at the defensive end and he made some shots.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
M FG FT R A P
Stan Okoye 32 6-14 1-6 8 2 14
Nick Gore 23 2-4 0-0 1 0 5
D.J. Covington 24 5-12 2-3 7 1 12
Rodney Glasgow 29 2-6 3-3 6 7 7
Brian Brown 18 1-5 0-0 2 2 3
Christian Burton 1 1-1 0-0 0 0 3
Drew Absher 1 0-0 0-0 1 1 0