NEW YORK — Sampling the storied atmosphere at Madison Square Garden for the first time, Juwan Staten made it his mecca.
Pouring in 14 of his season-high 24 points during the second half, Staten turned back N.C. State’s rally and sparked No. 22 West Virginia to an 83-69 victory—its most satisfying result on the U.S. mainland this season.
“That’s a special moment,” Staten said after claiming MVP honors the Gotham Classic. “This is the best place to play basketball in the world.”
At times Saturday night, Staten played like one of the world’s best point guards, or at least one of the nation’s best.
Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried acknowledged as much: “It was a one-point game and I thought he just said, ‘I am going to play like the Big 12 player of the year.’ He took the game over.”
Staten sank 10-of-17 shots, dished out six assists and, according to Bob Huggins, “played as hard defensively as he’s played all year.” Two of his four turnovers came on offensive fouls created by the artful flops of N.C. State guard Cat Barber.
West Virginia (10-1) heard plenty of whistles it didn’t like, accumulating a season-worst 31 fouls (12 more than its per-game average). The foul discrepancy was 10-3 in the opening half when Huggins received a technical during a media timeout.
Responding to their coach’s fire, WVU surfaced from the timeout with a 6-0 run to lead 26-18. That margin ballooned to 13 later in the half.
“That tech, It was because he was hyped and energetic and involved in the game,” said Devin Williams, who was hyped and energetic and involved himself with 16 points, eight rebounds and no fear of challenging N.C. State’s vaunt shot-swatter BeeJay Anya.
That helped Huggins capture his 750th win and WVU improve to 32-44 at MSG.
Trevor Lacey matched Staten for game-high honors with 24 points, including 19 of his team’s 37 second-half points. At times they put on what essentially a one-on-one shooting match.
Barber scored 16 for the Wolfpack (9-3) but produced a minus-2 assist-turnover ratio, and Ralston Turner scored only nine points after scorching Tennessee for 33 on Wednesday.
Offensive surge: At 53 percent, West Virginia enjoyed its hottest shooting night of the season. Jaysean Paige made 5-of-7 shots in scoring 11 points in a sixth-man’s role, fueling a 30-11 edge in bench scoring.
Most stunning? Jonathan Holton ended a nearly month-long drought that had dropped his 3-point percentage below 12 percent. He sank two from the right corner in the final 3:45, ending a string of 11 straight misses over six games.
“It’s definitely nice for the lid to come off,” he said. “I was like blessed. Thank God, I finally hit one.”
No LSU redux: The collapse that burned West Virginia against LSU seemed to be repeating itself when the Wolfpack twice pulled within a point during the second half.
This time, however, the Mountaineers stopped the bleeding.
“We played the whole game tonight,” said Paige.
Since squandering a 14-point lead against LSU, the Mountaineers have won three consecutive games.
Turnovers, turnovers: N.C. State committed 23 turnovers, including 16 in the first half. Gottfried had no answer after his primary ballhandlers—Lacey, Barber and Turner—lost 14 combined. That’s three more than the Pack came in averaging as a team.
“Their pressure bothered us. In the first half we played like a young team and they looked like sharks in the water,” Gottfried said. “It’s the kind of things where we had no poise. They sped us up.”
Fouls, fouls, fouls: Paige fouled out in only 20 minutes, Nate Adrian committed four in six minutes and Holton was whistled four times in 16 minutes.
“I wish they’d bring it back like the old Big East and let us play,” joked Holton. “Coach Huggins, he wants us up in ’em and that’s the way I like to play—active. I’ve got to learn how to stop reaching in and getting cheap fouls.”
Crowd-sourcing: The announced attendance was 8,088 and West Virginia held the edge judging from the way Mountaineers fans dominated the “Dance Cam” appearances during timeouts.