MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — No. 11 Iowa State jumped ahead by making its first four shots Monday night.
Never has a start been more bogus.
Save for the opening few possessions, this was West Virginia’s game to dictate and domineer. The Mountaineers snatched the lead for good less than six minutes in, established a 19-point cushion at halftime and stretched it to 32 during the waning minutes.
The 102-77 clobbering was so thorough that West Virginia walk-on Tyrone Hughes wound up with as many baskets as Iowa State star Melvin Ejim.
Perplexed by WVU’s matchup zone and kept out of transition by WVU’s ability to score, the Cyclones’ heretofore explosive offense was powerless to play catch-up. Instead it succumbed more meekly than anyone could have anticipated—crippled by sloppy passes, an inability to convert close-up shots and downright abysmal 3-point shooting.
West Virginia, meanwhile, was lethal from behind the arc in making 13-of-22. That matched the season’s previous best 3-point output, achieved against Loyola-Maryland during the developmental days of first semester. If memory serves, the WVU players did not climb into a jubilant student section after beating Loyola-Maryland.
But after demolishing Iowa State, which began the night brandishing a shiny No. 7 RPI, there was a more tangible sense of accomplishment.
“We’re still not where we need to be, but we’re a heck of a lot closer,” said Bob Huggins, whose team won for the fourth time in five games and, for one night at least, looked NCAA-worthy.
Juwan Staten made his customary assortment of terrific plays, prompting students to chant “M-V-P!” Eron Harris scored 16 points in 33 turnover-free minutes, showing tighter ball-handling than in recent games. Terry Henderson scored 16 as well, two days after apologizing to teammates for his dreadful game at Kansas. And Remi Dibo became the fourth musketeer, swishing 6-of-8 3-pointers to score a career-high 20.
“West Virginia played an excellent game by spacing and exposing us,” said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. “We let them come out and get way too comfortable. We ultimately gave (WVU’s shooters) way too much time and did not take anything away from them.
“That was the worst effort we’ve had by far this season.”
And based on margin-of-defeat, it was the worst Iowa State loss since February 2011, Hoiberg’s first season. (Conversely, West Virginia had not won a league game so comfortably since January 2011, when it pummeled Providence by 30 in a Big East matchup.)
Many of the 8,000-plus in attendance were fretful of Iowa State generating a second-half push, yet a surge never came. WVU, after shooting 50 percent in the first half, squelched any glimmer of a comeback by sinking 60 percent in the second half.
“You’re down 19 (at half) and you’re definitely trying to be optimistic … but they just kept hitting shots,” said Iowa State’s Ejim, a 48-point man on Saturday turned six-point producer on Monday. “When a team hits 60 percent it’s hard to come back from that.”
Likewise, it’s hard to rally when even Nate Adrian provides a defensive spark, which the WVU freshman did during an 18-6 second-half run that essentially blew the game wide-open. Adrian’s first steal result in an under-handed outlet pass to Staten, who back-ironed an uncontested two-handed dunk. (Hey, even an MVP loses some bounce when he’s playing 38 minutes a game.) On the next steal, an overplayed interception at the top of the key, Adrian made sure to finish off the breakaway himself.
A couple possessions later, he rotated across the lane to block a Monte Morris layup attempt.
Said Huggins: “That’s getting to the ball. That’s what I’m used to seeing guys do. He was terrific. Really, a key to our run in the second half was his defensive play.”
Compliments aside, Huggins still delivered a chewing after Adrian fouled an Iowa State 3-point shooter with 4:24 left. Of course, West Virginia led 90-61 at that time and was in full control of the game—though not necessarily its emotions.
On the preceding play, Harris saw Dustin Hogue kick WVU’s Kevin Noreen in the chest while leaping for a long offensive rebound. And when Morris subsequently drove to the basket, Harris tomahawked the Iowa State guard on the face and neck. After a video review, Harris was ejected for a flagrant 2 foul.
“(Morris) came to the basket unguarded, so I went for the ball and I went wild,” Harris calmly explained afterward. “They called a foul and I got ejected. It’s something I can’t argue.”
What was Huggins’ response on the bench? “He said I can’t get caught up in the B.S.,” Harris said. “He said to keep my head in the game.”
It looked like an open-and-shut episode of a player self-policing, though Harris and his teammates dismissed that angle. Because the ejection doesn’t carry an automatic suspension, Harris should be available for Saturday’s game at Texas unless the Big 12 metes out further discipline.
Truth is, West Virginia had done its share of bullying Iowa State well before Harris lowered the boom.