Defense delivers when shots don’t fall at Northern Kentucky

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — West Virginia sophomore Devin Williams hugged hometown friends by the hundreds, and standing courtside, his coach entertained a receiving line of his own. Not far away, Jonathan Holton stopped an interviewer cold to chase down Hall-of-Famer Oscar Robertson for a picture.

It all made for a cozy ending to a Cincinnati trip that featured the ugliest of starts.

Tied 6-6 with Northern Kentucky through 11 clunky minutes, the No. 16 Mountaineers ultimately generated enough offense to pull away for a 67-42 victory.

Williams scored 12 points in his homecoming and point guard Juwan Staten fought through 3-of-12 shooting to contribute 12 points, eight rebounds and four assists, helping West Virginia (8-1) recover from its first loss of the season to LSU.

Jonathan Holton scored all 10 of his points in the second half, when the Mountaineers awakened to stretch a 20-17 lead into double-digits. Their 44-percent shooting over the final 20 minutes looked terrific compared to the seven baskets and nine turnovers produced during their lowest-scoring first-half of the season.

“We couldn’t make a basket,” said Bob Huggins after West Virginia opened the game 2-of-14 with five turnovers.

“When you don’t make a shot—and let’s be honest, we could kick as many in as we made—they stood in the lane and then that really takes away Wannie’s effectiveness. “When you don’t make shots they surround the rim and say you’re not going to get anything easy.”

Nothing came easy for Northern Kentucky (3-5) either, which shot 26 percent overall and 6-of-25 in the opening half.

“The first half, that was our opportunity to have an 8, 10, or 12-point lead, but we missed so many point-blank opportunities,” said NKU coach Dave Bezold. “We had the opportunity to give ourselves a little cushion, but that didn’t happen.”

Chad Jackson finished with 12 points and nine rebounds to lead the Norse, who were hoping to reprise their exhibition upset of November 2011 in Morgantown, back when they were a D-II program.

Now in their third year of Division I, the Atlantic Sun members don’t feature a player taller than 6-foot-7 yet outrebounded West Virginia 22-19 in the first half.

“We played the worst half we could play and we were still up three,” said Williams. “But staring slow is a bad thing. Once we get into conference play, people are going to be jumping out on us and punching us in the mouth.”

Cold at home: Norse starters Tayler Persons, Tyler White and Jalen Billups combined to go 0-of-17 from the floor with a total of five points.

“When you look down the line and see a bunch of oh-fers from your starters, you can’t make it a ballgame the entire 40 minutes,” said Bezold, noting West Virginia’s defensive quickness and length. “When you’re playing this higher caliber of an athlete, those (shooting) windows close a little quicker.”

Say uncle: Huggins’ nephew, NKU junior guard Anthony Monaco, made two 3-pointers for his six points.

“He played well and made some shots,” said Huggins, who didn’t think much about the family connection. “When you start playing you sort of forget about that.”

Suiting up: Donning a three-piece suit instead of his customary pullover, Huggins looked dapper for his return to Cincinnati.

“He’s always sharp,” said Williams. “When it’s time to put it on, he knows how to put it on.”

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