MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia didn’t get the fast-break it was seeking, but when Jordan McCabe spotted Lamont West drifting unchecked on the opposite wing, he threaded a pass through the Rider defense.
West splashed a 3 and the Mountaineers’ first-half struggles seemed to dissolve.
“I said, ‘Hey, if I get in tonight and pass you the ball, are you going to make a shot for me?’ And Lamont helped me out,” McCabe joked.
It wasn’t all giggles and backslaps, but West Virginia climbed out of a seven-point hole late in the half and ultimately downed Rider 92-78. A modest three-game winning streak achieved on the shoulders of West scoring a team-high 20 points and the freshman reserve McCabe slickly dishing out eight assists.
The Mountaineers (4-2) grabbed the lead for good with a 17-5 run before halftime — a stretch in which McCabe assisted on five ion seven baskets. One of them was a long rebound off which he no-looked a pass to Esa Ahmad for a and-1 layup.
The kid known for creative ball-handling and daring passes aims primarily to be true his coach, Bob Huggins, more than his own sense of style.
“If the pass ends up being an and-1, he’s probably happy. If it doesn’t, I’m probably coming out,” McCabe acknowledged. He swears he’s “trying to rein it in,” even though the flashiness still surfaces. He committed three turnovers and was certain that Huggins would point them out on film study.
“I might have thought at one point that doing certain things with the ball and playing a certain way was a lot of fun. Now I’m at the college level and just playing is fun. Being on the floor and trying to help my team is fun.”
Ahmad added 16 points and seven rebounds, and the Mountaineers won despite the absence of center Sagaba Konate. Still plagued by a knee injury suffered during the preseason, Konate was averaging 15 points and eight rebounds and leading the team with 45-percent 3-point shooting.
Beetle Bolden (elbow) returned from a two-game absence and scored 12 first-half points — shooting that was sorely needed when his teammates started 1-of-17 from the floor.
The oft-injured Bolden took a hard spill in transition and sat out the second half, which Huggins called a precaution.
It didn’t cost WVU because West hit was 4-of-10 from 3-point range and 4-of-5 at the foul line.
He even produced a four-point play by banking in a 21-footer as he was bumped by Rider’s Devine Eke.
“I’ve got a pretty good pump-fake,” West said. “I was going to drive past him, but it was too perfect.”
Konate’s void was filled by walk-on center Logan Routt producing eight boards and seven points, helping the Mountaineers to a 46-36 rebounding edge.
Frederick Scott scored 17 points off the bench for Rider (2-2), while Jordan Allen and Dimencio Vaughn added 11 each.
Preseason favorites to win the MAAC, the Broncs endured four technicals. One on coach Kevin Baggett seemed innocuous — he simply asked that referee Gary Maxwell “watch them holding us.” Another followed point guard Stevie Jordan flexing for a milli-second after a fast-break finish.
“I don’t have a comment on it, I really don’t,” Baggett said. “I don’t want our guys to get technicals and I don’t want myself to get a technical. That’s not who we are. We normally don’t do that.”
Indeed, Rider was called for only one technical in its first three games of this season, and seven total technicals in 32 games last season.
West Virginia led by 19 in the second half before the Broncs closed within 10. Shades of that 13-point lead squandered against Buffalo in the season opener.
“We get a lead,” Huggins said, then tailing off. “They drove the lane any time they wanted to.”
Rider finished with a 44-39 edge in paint scoring, more than offset by WVU’s 33-16 edge in free throw attempts.
A 12-0 run early in the second half featured four straight baskets by WVU, including 3s by Brandon Knapper and Chase Harler.
Harler and freshman Emmitt Matthews scored 11 each.
Rider committed 15 turnovers, though WVU didn’t create much havoc with its full-court traps. The half court man-to-man may not sell many “Press Virginia” T-shirts, but it’s OK to McCabe
“With this group, let’s just try to be ‘Win Virginia’ for now,” he said. “Let’s just win games, whether it’s with full-court pressure or not. That’s what’s important.”