Late comeback saves Mountaineers in season opener

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s 64-54 victory over Monmouth proved final scores can be misleading. Here’s a glimpse at how the Mountaineers’ season-opening game unfolded:

BOXSCORE: West Virginia 64, Monmouth 54

Finishing kick: Before a 28-8 closing run in the final 7:30, the Mountaineers were facing an U-G-L-Y loss to a team coming off three consecutive 20-loss seasons. Juwan Staten made eight straight free throws and scored 10 of his game-high 20 points during the final 4:47.

“I don’t know if we’ll see guys as good as (Staten), but at the end of this game I know that he thinks that Monmouth kids can play,” said Monmouth coach King Rice. “He’s one of the best players in the country. There are probably NBA guys coming to watch him and I think my guys did an unbelievable job on that type of player.”

Monmouth led by as much as 14 early in the second half before foul trouble and West Virginia’s rebounding advantage swayed the outcome.

Missing shots: The Mountaineers figured to miss the perimeter scoring of transfers Eron Harris, Terry Henderson and Remi Dibo, and 6-of-29 shooting from 3-point range validated that. Yet interior offense also was problematic as West Virginia missed 30-of-32 shots during a 14-minute stretch.

Devin Williams missed his first 11 shots before making two layups and a dunk in the final 2:33. His 15-point, 15-rebound double-double couldn’t obscure his inability to finish in the paint.

Jonathan Holton, making his WVU debut, shot 1-of-9 as West Virginia made only 26 percent (18-of-69) from the floor. When’s the last time you saw a team miss 50 shots and win?

“There’s a positive: We shot 16 percent in the first half and still won,” said coach Bob Huggins.

Missing players: The team announced that junior forward BillyDee Williams will be sidelined indefinitely after suffering a fracture of the orbital bone near his right eye during Thursday’s practice. Forward Brandon Watkins also was held out with an illness, and Elijah Macon (five points, three rebounds) played only 11 minutes as he continues to regain stamina after a foot injury.

Staten played a team-high 34 minutes, while Williams (29) and Gary Browne (26).

Foul differential: Thanks to a 49-33 rebounding gap, West Virginia held a 21-2 edge in second-chance points. That also contributed to Monmouth being whistled for 21 fouls to the home team’s 17.

The Hawks three big men—Brice Kofane (eight points and 11 rebounds), Chris Brady and Zac Tillman—fouled out. Deon Jones (14 points) and Andrew Nicholas (10 points) were hampered by four fouls.

“I think it hurt us when our three big guys fouled out, I think that was the key to the game,” said Rice. “I thought we dealt with the first wave, I thought we dealt with the second wave, I thought we dealt with the third and the fourth. And then they got to us a little bit. The game got very, very physical.”

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