Maintaining defensive focus becomes Huggins’ focus

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins yells at Remi Dibo after a defensive lapse in the Mountaineers’ 96-83 win over Duquesne.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Those offensive-minded rule changes driving up scoring across college basketball? They only partially explain why West Virginia is allowing 77 points per game through the season’s first two weeks.

Bob Huggins has evaluated three games’ worth of film and found another culprit—his team’s intensity lapses—and they’re a key reason why the Mountaineers (2-1) aren’t unbeaten heading into the Cancun Challenge.

“We don’t continue to play through plays,” West Virginia’s coach said before Tuesday’s practice. “We play pretty hard and then we kind of figure it’s time for a rest. When you get a little tired and you start standing up, we just get ourselves out of position.

“Some of it is we just lose focus and we end up standing and staring at the ball.”

After clamping down on Mount Saint Mary’s 77-62 in the opener, West Virginia has lost at Virginia Tech (87-82) and outscored Duquesne (96-83), surrendering 45-percent shooting in the two-game stretch. And in each of those games, the opponent had an unlikely scorer emerge. Tech freshman Ben Emelogu scored 22 against WVU (nine points beyond his average in the Hokies’ other three games) and Duquesne’s Micah Mason poured in 18 points—his only dougle-figures scoring night through three games.

“Everybody’s pretty good at finding a weak link” in the defense, Huggins said.

Thursday night’s visitor to the Coliseum, Georgia Southern (2-1), averages 92 points and better than 52 percent shooting, albeit with two wins over Columbia International and Toccoa Falls—teams from the National Christian College Athletic Association (that’s NCCAA with two C’s). More impressive was the Eagles’ 81-80 overtime loss at Miami.

“We need to pick up our defense,” said West Virginia point guard Juwan Staten. “Our defense is struggling a bit. We’re allowing too many teams to score too points against us. It’s something we need to sort out.”

The status of transfer forward Jonathan Holton remains nebulous, with Huggins saying he has received no further word. Holton was a freshman standout at Rhode Island before playing last season at Palm Beach (Fla.) State Community College. The Dominion Post first reported last month that Holton did not graduate from Palm Beach State, making him ineligible to play at an NCAA four-year program until he receives his associates degree.

While Huggins said he hasn’t ruled out Holton playing this season, the possibility of a redshirt increases with each day.

“Eventually we’ll have to make a decision about whether (Holton playing this season) is worth it or not,” Huggins said. “I don’t think we’re there yet. We’ve only played three games.”

Though guard Gary Browne played through a thigh bruise to score 15 points at Virginia Tech, he was sidelined against Duquesne and has struggled in practices.

“He tried to go (Tuesday), but he wasn’t very good. Still very limited,” Huggins said. “Every time it gets bumped it flares back up.”

Only a 32-percent shooter from the floor last year, Browne has made 6-of-10 shots in two games as a junior, improvement Huggins attributed to offseason drills.

“Gary’s got to get healed up because he’s not what he was. He was playing pretty well before he got hurt.”

With Tuesday night’s 39-point outburst fueling a 101-80 win over Memphis, Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart gave national viewers a taste of his NBA-caliber skills. In Morgantown, Staten was paying attention, with two conference matchups forthcoming in January.

“I was very impressed that he had a great game,” Staten said. “That’s just something that drives me to work harder.”

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