MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The first leg of the Cancun Challenge wasn’t much of a challenge for West Virginia.
Point guard Juwan Staten reached the 20-point mark for the third time this season and WVU hit triple digits for the first time in 206 games dating back to November 2007. In crushing Georgia Southern 101-68, the Mountaineers unleashed their transition game and shared the ball enough to land five players in double figures.
“It definitely felt good seeing 100 points on the board,” said Staten, who contributed nine assists. “Last season it felt good to see 70 on the board.”
West Virginia (3-1) could make last season a rogue memory with more outbursts like Thursday’s. Staten had nine points to fuel a 13-0 start in the first 4 minutes and the Mountaineers led 34-10 at the second media timeout.
This one became a knockout even before the lead swelled to 55-26 at halftime.
“It seemed like when anybody got a look they made it,” said coach Mark Byington, whose Eagles (2-2) were hoping to spring an upset after falling by only one point in overtime at Miami.
Staten had 14 points by intermission, none more monumental than his 3-pointer at the 12:31 mark—his first 3 since Feb. 16, 2011, when he was a freshman at Dayton. He had missed 13 consecutive 3-point attempts since the, including 0-of-8 last season.
“That 3 probably meant a little bit more to everybody else than it did to me, because it’s something I hear about on a daily basis,” Staten joked. “But in practice I shoot them when they’re open.”
While Staten does most of his damage driving to the basket and pulling up for mid-range jumpers, WVU coach Bob Huggins sensed during warmups the point guard might soon knock down an open 3.
“Before the game he made 13 in a row and 17 out of 18, and then I quit counting,” Huggins said. “He told me before the game, ‘I just want to make one so these people will get off my back.’”
Terry Henderson, back from a shin injury, was 2-of-3 from long range on his way to 16 points. Gary Browne, trying to play through a thigh bruise, sank 3-of-5 from the 3-point line and scored 11—helping WVU to a 41-17 edge in bench scoring.
Devin Williams added 16 points and seven rebounds, though his 2-of-7 foul shooting dipped his season rate to only 44 percent. Eron Harris scored 15 on 6-of-11 shooting.
The 100-point mark seemed assured when WVU led 92-53 with 6:07 left after Staten’s behind-the-back feed led to Henderson’s dunk. But it took a basket by Kevin Noreen with 25 seconds left to delight the small Coliseum crowd. WVU had not scored 100 since defeating Maryland-Eastern Shore 110-44 on Nov. 27 2007.
“Easy buckets are something we need to get,” Staten said. “Last year we made every basket a hard basket and that’s why we only won 13 games.
“Tonight it might have been a little easier than it will be against better teams, but I’m please to see we’re taking a step in the right direction.”
Tre Bussey scored 21 to lead Geogia Southern, which shot 27 percent in the opening half and 55 percent the rest of the way. Jelani Hewitt, ewho came in averaging 25, scored 12 in the second half to finish with 15 points.
Huggins has plenty of teaching points to cover as WVU prepares to face Presbyterian on Saturday in another stateside preliminary of the Cancun Challenge. The tournament shifts to Mexico next Tuesday and Wednesday.
“The defense improved the first half, but we didn’t guard as hard the second half obviously,” Huggins said.
“They (Georgia Southern) run the same deal and get the same guy open in the corner four times in a row. That should never happen. They run a great set and get it once, maybe they get it on you twice. But, come on, the third time and you still don’t make a rotation? Much less a fourth time.”