COLUMBUS, Ohio — Energized by the belief “all teams will crack” under its relentless defensive pressure, West Virginia chafed and harassed Maryland right out of the NCAA tournament.
The Mountaineers swiped a school tournament-record 15 steals and received another man-sized double-double from Devin Williams during a 69-59 victory that summons a Sweet 16 showdown against heretofore unbeatable Kentucky.
America will see whether the Wildcats can cope with West Virginia (25-9). Sunday night sure proved fourth-seeded Maryland couldn’t.
“We’re like gnats. You swipe and swipe but you can’t never get it,” said Mountaineers playmaker Juwan Staten after watching the Terps (28-7) unravel for a season-worst 23 turnovers. “We noticed they were averaging almost 13 turnovers a game not playing against any pressure. So we felt our pressure could really work.”
No defense works harder than the full-court drag net deployed by Bob Huggins. Even though Terps freshman Melo Trimble carved through it at times for 15 points, he couldn’t handle the ball exclusively. In fact, Trimble couldn’t handle it at all during the final 8:25, his night ended prematurely by a teammate’s accidental kick.
Already trailing 53-46, the Terps’ comeback options were doomed without their All-Big Ten point guard. Not that West Virginia had much sympathy, not after going 1-3 during a recent stretch without Staten.
“I hope Trimble is OK, but no, we didn’t feel sorry for them,” said WVU freshman Daxter Miles. “Their guards weren’t deep enough.”
No Terp was more flummoxed than Dez Wells, who scored only nine points (six below his average) and lost a career-high eight turnovers in his final college game.
“Their press, it was good,” Wells said. “They kept throwing a lot of bodies at us. And we turned the ball over more than we usually do. My hat goes off to Coach Huggins and his team.”
Along with a 26-10 edge in points off turnovers, West Virginia led 16-7 in second-chance points, thanks in part to the rugged Williams. His 16 points and 10 rebounds served as body blows, and when the double-teams came he twice kicked out passes for 3-pointers.
“Dev, he’s playing like a man on a mission right now,” Staten said. “He’s carried us through these last two games. I just applaud him.”
Teammate Jonathan Holton labeled Williams “one of the strongest guys in college basketball,” an opinion base on countless physical practice confronttaions. “He’s 6-9, 265—you can’t beat that. Salute to Devin.”
Holton warranted his own salute after a12-point effort. Though credited with only three rebounds, Holton tipped numerous missed shots.
“We scrap,” Williams said. “We’re just playing our hearts out.”
Huggins has demanded and typically received this type of effort throughout this surprising season. Even after Maryland shot lights-out in the opening half, WVU owned the edge in hustle plays and a 35-34 lead.
“We shot 36 percent the first half, they shot 55, and we led by one,” he said. “Because we get more shots. A lot of those things come down to offensive rebounding and the pressure, comes down to hard work.”
Minutes later, the happy Mountaineers piled onto a bus and headed out of Columbus, still more work to do.