West Virginia overcame a sluggish first half and 14 total turnovers on Saturday afternoon, holding off Radford 72-62.
Aaric Murray scored a season-high 23 points, sparking what was an overall stagnant Mountaineers offense for much of the game.
“I was looking to play harder in this game,” Murray said. “I try to play harder in every game. … I tried to rebound more and defend more.”
Murray sparked a 17-10 West Virginia run to end the first half, erasing a deficit and giving the Mountaineers a 31-27 lead at the break. In all, Murray finished 8-of-16 from the floor with eight rebounds. He also added three steals and four assists.
“He does so much for us and I don’t think you’ve seen yet everything that he can do,” Staten said. “He can do a little bit of everything – he can pass, put it down on the floor, knock down a 3-ball, hit a mid-range shot and he can play great defense. We just hope he keeps coming around and getting better every game like he is.”
Watch a video recap from Saturday’s game by clicking here
The ultimate turn in the contest came with 9:10 to go as West Virginia (6-5) trailed 49-48. That’s when coach Bob Huggins made a switch to the 1-3-1 defensively, and the Mountaineers outscored Radford 24-13 to close out the game.
“I don’t have a problem using it the whole game, but I don’t think it’s effective for the entire game,” Huggins said of the 1-3-1. “We have used it in the past to slow people down. When you first throw it out there, people try to figure it out and pass it more.
“I thought we did a good job with the 1-3-1 until the end,” he continued. “We stayed in our lanes for the most par. We were making pretty good drops, but then we didn’t make any drops. The 1-3-1 was just pretty effective.”
In all, West Virginia still put up better numbers from the floor, finishing at 45.8 percent in the contest – a far cry better than the 39% the team had averaged for much of the season. West Virginia, overall, focused more on Saturday of the guards penetrating to create opportunities at the line and open shots.
“We have quick guards and we figure if we spread teams out and let our guards continue to get paint touches, then we’ll continue to get to the line more and find cutters or shooters,” said Mountaineer point guard Juwan Staten. “It’s something we’ve been working on the last couple of days in practice and it worked for us in the second half.”
The Mountaineers had a huge advantage at the line, hitting 25-of-35 free throws, compared to Radford’s 11-of-16 mark at the line.
“He can do a little bit of everything – he can pass, put it down on the floor, knock down a 3-ball, hit a mid-range shot and he can play great defense. We just hope he keeps coming around and getting better every game like he is.” – Juwan Staten on Aaric Murray
Murray was the only West Virginia player to finish in double-figures scoring. Guard Gary Browne was second on the team with nine points. For Radford (5-7), Javonte Green put up 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
“We have 10 of our 11 players that are either freshmen or sophomores,” said Radford head coach Mike Jones. “This is their first time playing college basketball. We expect they will get better along the way.
“Our guys came out with the right mental focus, but at the end of the day, it was too much Aaric Murray on the inside,” Jones continued. “They were able to get the ball deep and give us some problems inside.”
West Virginia now has a bit of a break over Christmas, as the team won’t return to action until Sunday, Dec. 30 against Eastern Kentucky.
“This break is good for us and lets people get off their feet a little bit, see their families and eat some home cooked meals,” Staten said. “We get some time to just relax and have some down time, so that when we come back, we’ll be energized and ready to go.”