Saturday afternoon No. 14 West Virginia put forth its worst showing of the season, losing 88-71 at Florida in a game that wasn’t all that close, and things seemed to be headed in that direction Tuesday night at No. 13 Iowa State. The Cyclones led by 15 just over ten minutes into the first half, and with point guard Monte Morris having little trouble dealing with the West Virginia press Steve Prohm’s team appeared poised to strengthen its grip on the game.
But the Mountaineers got going, with Devin Williams dominating the boards and Jaysean Paige providing some much-needed scoring off the bench, ultimately winning 81-76 at Hilton Coliseum.
Williams was outstanding in the paint for West Virginia, which once again played without the suspended Jonathan Holton, racking up 17 points and 18 rebounds (six offensive). As a team the Mountaineers rebounded 48.6 percent of their available missed shots, converting 17 offensive rebounds into 18 second-chance points. Those extra opportunities helped West Virginia make up for its lack of perimeter shooting against a team that shot 11-for-22 from three.
Offensive rebounding is a key area for Bob Huggins’ team given their shooting issues, and against an Iowa State team that lacks depth especially in the post, they were able to take advantage.
The other key for West Virginia was the play of Paige, who has emerged as one of the top sixth men in the country. After averaging 5.6 points in just over 13 minutes of action per game as a freshman, Paige has emerged as the Mountaineers’ leading scorer (13.6 ppg before Tuesday’s game). Against Iowa State he gave the Mountaineers a much-needed spark offensively, scoring a game-high 23 points with ten coming in the first half to help trim that 15-point deficit to four by halftime.
With the graduation of Juwan Staten, West Virginia was in need of someone stepping forward into the role of shot maker. They’re balanced offensively when it comes to the averages, with four players averaging double figures and Holton not far off at 9.7 ppg. But as the season’s progressed it’s become clear that Paige is the players best equipped to take (and make) key shots at key points in games.
Picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll, West Virginia hits the halfway point tied with No. 1 Oklahoma atop the conference standings. Just a couple days after getting out-toughed at Florida, West Virginia offered up a much better response to early adversity at Iowa State, and they remain atop the Big 12 as a result.