MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University men’s basketball team let Missouri get back into a game in which the No. 14 Mountaineers led by double-digits in the first half, with the Tigers closing the gap to just one point at halftime.
Unfortunately for Mizzou, the teams came back on to the floor and had to play another half after the break.
West Virginia outscored Missouri by 22 points over the final 20 minutes and limited the Tigers to a 28% shooting performance in a 74-51 win Saturday as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge at the WVU Coliseum.
The win was No. 876 for veteran WVU Coach Bob Huggins, which put him in a tie on the all-time list in seventh place with legendary Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp.
It looked like win No. 876 was going to be an easy one early against Mizzou (9-10, 1-5 SEC) as the Mountaineers raced out to a 20-6 lead. West Virginia (16-3, 4-2 Big 12) became complacent at that point, and the Tigers pounced.
Mizzou stormed back to get the game within one point at halftime, trailing WVU 24-23. West Virginia closed the half making just one of its last 13 field goal attempts, missing its final seven over the span of 3:14 to close the half.
“We stopped playing,” Huggins said. “We just kind of stopped playing, and they made some shots. They struggled to make shots early, then we kind of stopped playing and gave them too many opportunities. We didn’t rebound the ball, we were just kind of standing around and staring for a while. We kind of woke up at halftime”
Huggins, long known to be a bit fiery at times, did not disappoint on what turned out to be a milestone day in his career. His halftime message to the Mountaineers was to fix their spacing, start making easy shots and to wake up.
“I’ll give you the non-explicit version,” WVU guard Taz Sherman said. “Basically, defense wasn’t our main issue in the first half, it was our scoring. Our spacing was kind of bad. We didn’t really make a lot of layups — we were missing a lot of layups and open shots. Once we knew we were going to make all of those, we knew what kind of game it was going to be from then on.”
Safe to say, the message was received loud and clear.
West Virginia came out for the second half committed to its defense, which opened opportunities for the Mountaineers on the offensive end. Mizzou went 9 of 25 from the field in the second half to go with 10 turnovers during the game’s final 20 minutes.
“In the second half, they turned up the heat” Mizzou coach Cuonzo Martin said. “They turned up the heat. They went to both of their bigs. Whether their bigs were scoring the ball or not, they had a presence. They did a great job of attacking downhill and putting pressure on our defense. We didn’t do a very good job of blocking out, collapsing, trying to help. We didn’t block out well, then all of a sudden you get consumed with their bigs. Now their guards are getting put-backs, and I thought [Jermaine] Haley did a great job of getting offensive rebounds, slashing to the basket and making plays.”
Haley finished tied for the team lead, along with McBride, at 15 points to go with nine rebounds, two assists and three steals. Tshiebwe scored 14 with eight rebounds while going 4 of 6 at the foul line. Culver had a team-high 11 rebounds for the Mountaineers but scored just four points, with an 0-for-6 performance at the foul line.
Huggins was not as ready as Martin to heap praise on the Mountaineer big men after Saturday’s game.
“Are we adding free-throw shooting in it?” Huggins asked. “I thought they were average. You know, you kind of become accustomed, when they’re playing the high-low, to get the ball to each other and the guy going away from the pressure like you’re supposed to and banking in shots. We missed more 1-footers today than we have in a long time. They were 1-footers. You know there was some contact and stuff, but I mean, you’re going to get that.
“They were average at best, I thought, for them — and you know we set their standards a little higher.”
For Missouri, Torrence Watson came off the bench for the Tigers to score a game-high 19 points — nine of those coming in the final few minutes of the game.
West Virginia is back in action Wednesday on the road at Texas Tech before returning to Morgantown next Saturday to host Kansas State.