MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — No. 24 West Virginia found a sure way to improve morale: Hosting an opponent who hasn’t beaten a top-25 team in 35 seasons.
Point guard Jevon Carter delivered 20 points, seven rebounds and seven assists as the Mountaineers overwhelmed American 98-64 on Wednesday night. His nine steals were the second-most in school history, but the reigning NABC defensive player of the year said he wasn’t concerned about his personal stat line.
“Just that scoreboard,” Carter said. “If West Virginia’s side is higher than the other, I’m fine with that.”
Carter was held without a 3-pointer for the first time in 16 games (0 of 4) but scored on midrange jumpers and transition baskets created by his ball-hawking defense.
Daxter Miles also scored 20 and Beetle Bolden had 16 for West Virginia (1-1), which was returning to action after last week’s 23-point loss to Texas A&M in Germany. Freshman Teddy Allen scored 14 points and Lamont West finished with 12 in the romp that saw WVU shoot 64 percent during a 54-point second half.
Not that coach Bob Huggins was satisfied with his “Press Virginia” defense, which relies on a deep rotation to harass ballhandlers.
“We had 14 steals and JC had nine of them, so I have a hard time saying the other guys get it,” he said.
Sa’eed Nelson scored 17 and Larry Motuzis had 15 points for the outmanned Eagles (0-2), who haven’t beaten a ranked team since Dec. 15, 1982, when they upset No. 5 Georgetown 62-61.
Committing 22 turnovers — some against the press, others against halfcourt traps — was not a formula for ending that drought. The Mountaineers also enjoyed 39-26 advantage in rebounds leading to a 21-6 edge in second-chance points.
Bolden scored seven points in the span of 27 seconds to spark West Virginia on a 17-4 run early in the second-half. The sophomore guard sank a 3-pointer before finishing a fast-break at the basket and being intentionally fouled. Bolden added two free throws to make it a 53-35 cushion.
“It could be me, it could be Dax or it could be JC — that energy could come from anybody,” Bolden said. “Those plays definitely turned it up and got us going. It’s like a domino effect.”
After American knotted the game at 24-24 on Cheikh Diallo’s 3-pointer, Carter energized the Mountaineers during the final 6:31 of the half.
His steal on an inbounds pass led to a breakaway layup and he followed by feeding Miles for an alley-oop dunk. Carter added a runner in the lane, set up Teddy Allen’s 3 and tacked on two free throws for a 44-33 lead at the break.
“I thought we hung in there for as long as this group can,” said American coach Tom Brennan, whose team lost its opener 83-45 at Kansas State. “It probably doesn’t look like it, but I thought we played much better than our first game. We were down by 30 like that against Kansas State.”
American lost Diallo late in the half after his flagrant-2 elbow against Bolden triggered an ejection. The junior guard from Senegal left with six points and six rebounds.
“We need him in there,” Brennan said. “He’s got a ton of energy, but he’s an emotional kid. Most of the time it works for him, but facing a team like this it worked against him.”
West Virginia starting center Sagaba Konate was in uniform but did not play for the first time in 39 career games, what Huggins called a coach’s decision.
“Sags is a great kid, he really is,” Huggins said. “But he’s got to learn that he’s got to do what he’s asked to do. I’m sure he will after this.”
Notes, stats, figures
Among the youngest rosters in Division I, American joins Kentucky, Holy Cross and Bowling Green as the only rosters that do not feature a senior. … WVU’s West had 10 points at halftime, going 10-of-13 on free throws. … Before the game, West Virginia raised its NCAA tournament banner from last season’s Sweet 16 run. … WVU’s single-game record for steals still belongs to Drew Schifino with 11 against Arkansas-Monticello in 2001.