At the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, West Virginia struggled to keep pace with No. 3 Michigan — primarily because it couldn’t keep pace with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.
In an 81-66 victory that looked even more one-sided at the outset, the Wolverines’ backcourt duo combined for 52 points on 19-of-28 shooting.
“Both of them surprise me sometimes, just what they can do,” said Michigan coach John Beilein, who won his first rematch against the WVU program he led for five seasons. “LaVall Jordan deserves a lot of credit, my assistant coach who works with those two. The drills that he does with them are all about skill development. But there’s still some things ’Vall can’t teach, I can’t teach.
“They’ve got some great DNA, and that makes a difference. They both have the same passion to be in this situation.”
Bolting to a 24-7 lead after seven minutes, Michigan (11-0) sank eight of its first 10 shots, executing Beilein’s offense so crisply that even one of the misses was a botched dunk by 3-point specialist Nik Stauskas.
“We start the game and for the first seven minutes and don’t get one rebound, and I don’t know if we had one stop,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “We dug ourselves a big hole.”
Yet West Virginia (4-5) scrambled back into the game, pulling within five points after Huggins went to a smaller lineup that shot 54 percent in the first half. (“I thought we put some guys in who competed, and we took some guys out today who wouldn’t,” he said.)
But the Wolverines, behind 27 points from Burke and 25 from Hardaway, pulled out to a 52-34 lead with 17:44 left.
Again West Virginia rallied, closing to within 71-64 on a 3-pointer by freshman Terry Henderson, who scored with 23 points. Any prospects of an upset vanished, however, when the Mountaineers missed three 3-pointers in a 40-second span. The Mountaineers closed the game with nine straight misses from the floor, dropping their overall shooting to 38-percent.
WVU played without leading rebounder and shot blocker Aaric Murray, who did not travel with the team — part of Huggins’ attempt at giving the inconsistent center an attitude adjustment. Still, the Mountaineers led the rebounding category for much of the game before Michigan pulled ahead 32-29 with a garbage-time flurry.
Point guard Juwan Staten added 12 points and five assists for West Virginia, but had his hands full trying to check the All-American candidate Burke, who bettered his 17 points-per-game average by making 12-of-16 shots.
“He hit some tough shots,” Staten said. “I thought I played pretty close defense on him sometimes, but he’s a great player and great players make tough shots.”
Burke also dished out eight assists without detriment of a turnover in 38 minutes.
“He makes the right pass,” Huggins said. “He goes 12-for-16 and that’s good, but he passes the ball to the right guy. Eight assists and no turnovers is a good night’s work.”
Hardaway was almost as good. He scored the game’s first basket with a straight-on 3-pointer, a clue that he was past the 9-for-33 shooting slump that plagued him the previous three games.
“It was great that my teammates were finding me and trusting me,” he said.
Ukrainian forward Volodymyr Gerun saw his first collegiate action, entering for Deniz Kilicli at 13:54 of the first half. A mere 51 seconds later, Dominique Rutledge slipped an interior feed to Gerun, who laid in his first WVU points.
Gerun, who played eight minutes, scored two more points than did Kilicli, who shot 0-for-3 and appears to be in danger of sacrificing playing time. The 6-foot-10 newcomer figures to see more action once he better comprehends defensive rotations.
“He didn’t know what he was doing, but his effort was fine,” Huggins said. “They ball-screened for about the last 30 minutes and we’ve got to get him better at guarding ball screens.”
Henderson’s 7-of-14 shooting night included two 3-pointers from the corner that brought WVU within single digits late in the game. He also made three steals.
“We’ve just got to have five guys out there playing hard at the same time,” he said. “(The two comebacks) just show what we can really do, that we really can make those kind of runs on good teams.”
Fellow freshman Eron Harris, who scored 10 points by hitting all three of his shots, added two steals and said he and Henderson aren’t timid about taking on bigger roles.
“He’s going to do way he does and I’m going to do what I do, and we’re going to help the team,” Harris said.
The Michigan coach downplayed the notion Saturday’s win was sweeter because it came against WVU, the school at which he averaged nearly 21 wins per season from 2003-2007. (More fulfilling, he said, was that it came on the road.)
“My family and I have so many great memories of West Virginia,” Beilein said. “We respect West Virginia so much.”
After his stint on the postgame mic, Beilein made certain to seek-and-greet several media members who covered him during his tenure in Morgantown.