For the second consecutive season No. 18 West Virginia managed to beat No. 15 Virginia despite having to play at a tempo slower than what they prefer, this time beating the Cavaliers 68-61 in Morgantown. West Virginia (8-1) was led offensively by guards Jevon Carter and Lamont West, who combined to score 45 points with Daxter Miles Jr. adding 12.
Devon Hall scored 19 and Kyle Guy 18 for Virginia (8-1), which suffered its first loss of the season. Here are four takeaways from West Virginia’s eighth win of the season, a result that will look quite good on the Mountaineers’ résumé moving forward.
1. While we know plenty about Jevon Carter, Lamont West’s progression will be critical for the Mountaineers moving forward.
After averaging 5.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game off the bench as a redshirt freshman, West is of far greater importance to the Mountaineer attack this season. The 6-foot-8 wing entered Tuesday’s game averaging 10.5 points and 5.1 rebounds in 23.5 minutes per game, shooting just 37.7 percent from the field and 27.5 percent from three. West outperformed those numbers in a big way against Virginia, as his 22 points were scored on 7-for-13 shooting from the field (4-for-9 3PT) and a 4-for-4 night from the foul line.
Add in his four rebounds, and West put forth what was arguably the best performance of his WVU career at just the right time. He did tally 22 points and eight boards in a blowout win over Long Beach State last month, but putting up good numbers against a team the caliber of Virginia is an entirely different deal. The key for West now: consistency. That will especially be important on nights in which the Mountaineer defense isn’t forcing a high number of live-ball turnovers.
2. Kyle Guy essentially experienced two different games, and Virginia can’t afford that.
The 6-foot-3 junior finished the game with 18 points, but things did not come easy for Guy with Daxter Miles Jr. pestering him for much of the night. Guy missed all five of his shot attempts in the the first half, and Guy was scoreless until the 13:53 mark of the second half when he made his first three-pointer. That shot was all Guy needed to get going, as he would make his next four three-point attempts and finish the half 6-for-9 from deep.
Virginia had enough offense to hang around throughout, with West Virginia’s combination of shot-making and stout half-court defense making the difference down the stretch. But where would that game have been for Virginia with a more effective Guy in the first half? A three-point halftime deficit could have been flipped, giving the Cavaliers the buffer needed to pick up the win.
Guy’s been excellent throughout this season; many scorers will have a hard time scoring points against West Virginia. Virginia can’t afford for him to be a “streak” scorer, in large part to the lack of consistent offensive options if Guy isn’t knocking down shots.
3. There aren’t many point guards in America I’d take before Jevon Carter.
There may be guards of higher acclaim when it comes to the NBA Draft boards, but there aren’t many who rate higher than Jevon Carter when it comes to the combination of skill, leadership and toughness. Carter’s fingerprints were all over this one, as in addition to scoring a game-high 23 points he also tallied ten rebounds, seven assists and two steals.
Carter played all 40 minutes for the Mountaineers and the effort never waned, and in him Bob Huggins has a senior floor general of high value. While others have stepped forward at various points to help out as West Virginia counts down the days until Esa Ahmad is eligible to return, Carter has been the constant. He’ll be in the conversation for Big 12 Player of the Year honors, and an All-American team nod will be worth discussing as well at this rate.
4. Virginia needs more consistent production from its front court moving forward.
The Cavaliers received good first-half minutes from Mamadi Diakite, who accounted for seven points and three rebounds off the bench. But outside of his 13 first-half minutes Virginia did not receive much in the way of production from its front court. Isaiah Wilkins finished the game with two points, five rebounds and two blocked shots, Jack Salt had more turnovers (three) than rebounds (two) or points (none), and Diakite would finish the game with nine points and five rebounds.
Kyle Guy and Devon Hall are going to lead the way offensively for Virginia, but the Cavaliers do not have much margin for error on that end of the court. Wilkins entered Tuesday averaging 8.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest, and his struggles Tuesday can also be attributed to the play of West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate. But if Virginia is to contend with the expected contenders in the ACC, they’re going to need more consistent production from the bigs.
The Cavaliers won’t need the second coming of Ralph Sampson (that would be nice, though), but they’ll need more than what they received from the front court in Morgantown.