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Mountaineers unable to recover from slow start in first loss to No. 24 Purdue

West Virginia fell behind No. 24 Purdue from the outset of Thursday night’s game.

The Mountaineers were unable to fully recover and ultimately came up short, 80-68, in their first of three contests as part of the Phil Knight Legacy at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland.

The Boilermakers (4-0) rattled off the game’s first nine points and used a decisive advantage from the free-throw line, combined with a strong showing from 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey, to force the Mountaineers into playing catch-up.

“We were 4-0 because we were better. We still didn’t execute the way we need to execute,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “We’ve turned the ball over at an alarming rate and we refuse to rebound it.” 

West Virginia (4-1) got to within 11-7 and then 19-16 on a Joe Toussaint 3-pointer, but Purdue outscored the Mountaineers 14-6 over the next 5 minutes, including four straight points from Edey and a Mason Gillis jumper that left WVU facing a 33-22 deficit.

The Mountaineers’ deficit was between eight and 13 points the remainder of the opening half, but after two Seth Wilson free throws cut Purdue’s lead to 40-32, Gillis concluded the first-half scoring with a triple that gave his team an 11-point advantage at halftime.

West Virginia went to the intermission shooting 13 of 33. The Mountaineers were efficient from inside the 3-point line in making 11-of-18 attempts, but they connected on only 2 of 15 from long range.

Meanwhile, the Boilermakers cashed in on 14-of-25 shots, all 10 of their first-half free-throw attempts and held a 19-13 rebounding edge.

The Mountaineers got to within eight on separate occasions over the first 3 minutes of the second half before Purdue countered with a 12-6 spurt and led 57-43 after five straight points courtesy of Brandon Newman’s triple and a layup from Trey Kaufman-Renn.

Purdue was still in front comfortably at 64-51 following Gillis’ conventional three-point play with 8:48 remaining, but the Mountaineers got field goals from Toussaint, Seth Wilson and Kedrian Johnson to trail by seven with 6:59 left.

Moments later, Johnson’s 3 cut Purdue’s advantage to 66-62 and the Mountaineers were as close as they’d been since trailing 22-18.

Braden Smith answered with a pivotal trey on a quality Purdue possession and it marked the start of a decisive 8-0 spurt that featured three points from Gillis and Edey’s basket with 3:27 remaining.

A 3 from Erik Stevenson with 2:29 left allowed WVU to trail 74-67, but the Mountaineers missed their remaining three field-goal attempts and got no closer down the stretch.

Edey led all players with 24 points and 12 boards for his fourth double-double in as many games. He made 7-of-12 shots and Purdue shot 51 percent in the victory while making 8-of-17 triples and 24-of-28 foul shots.

Gillis, who had been held scoreless in each of the team’s two previous games, stepped up in a big way with 14 points and five rebounds.

Stevenson led West Virginia with 17 points, 11 of which he scored after halftime. During the second half, Stevenson suffered what Huggins said was a sprained foot, but the coach added it’s “not a big deal.” 

Toussaint followed with 16 and Johnson added 11.

Forward Tre Mitchell, who entered as the Mountaineers’ second-leading scorer with an average of 13.3 points, was held to two points on 1-of-5 shooting. Mitchell picked up three fouls early in the second half to give him four for the game and sat the remaining 16-plus minutes.

“He got in foul trouble and it was a bad matchup,” Huggins said.

West Virginia shot 41 percent and was out-rebounded 35-31. The Mountaineers forced 18 turnovers and committed 12.

WVU is back in action at 9 p.m. Friday against Portland State. That contest will air on ESPNEWS.

The Vikings (2-3) lost late Thursday to No. 6 Gonzaga, 102-78.

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