West Virginia discovers offense in 89-58 victory over North Carolina Central

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Coming off its two lowest scoring outputs this season in a pair of contests at the Cancun Challenge, West Virginia was hoping to display better offensive efficiency in Wednesday’s game against North Carolina Central at the Coliseum.

In one manner, the Mountaineers did just that. In another, it was a step back.

West Virginia shot better than 54 percent from the field and made 10 of 21 attempts from 3-point range in an 89-58 win over the Eagles. The Mountaineers, however, turned it over a season-high 23 times while in the process of bouncing back from their first loss under coach Dawn Plitzuweit. 

“We showed tonight kind of who we are in terms of when we get better in one area, it doesn’t reflect in another area,” Plitzuweit said. “We’ve been really good at taking care of the basketball, but not really good at hitting shots. Today we hit shots, but we weren’t very good at taking care of the basketball. We have to continue to keep putting things together and that’s going to be important for us, but that’s not unexpected at this point in time. We’re focused on one area and then something else is an area we have to get better at.”

The Mountaineers (5-1) shot 50 percent or better in all four quarters and got the bulk of their offense from starting guards Madisen Smith and Jayla Hemingway and reserves Savannah Samuel and Danni Nichols in the opening frame.

Hemingway made both of her field-goal and free-throw attempts to score six points, while Smith, Nichols and Samuel scored five apiece to help stake WVU to a 25-16 lead.

“We wanted to be able to finish plays on offense and defense, going to the boards and getting good shots on offense,” Hemingway said. “Making sure everybody was moving without the ball and creating offense without having the ball in your hands was really important.”

After making 7-of-14 shots in the first quarter, Plitzuweit’s team shot 50 percent (8 of 16) again in the second.

Smith scored nine in the period on 4-of-6 shooting, while the Eagles (2-6) had 10 of their 26 turnovers over that 10-minute stretch and went to halftime trailing 43-27.

“We hit shots at a higher percentage than we have in the past few games,” Smith said. “That’s due to us getting extra shots in the gym, letting the offense come to us.“

NC Central cut the deficit to 49-35 when Morgan Callahan scored inside nearing the midway point of the third quarter. The Mountaineers responded by outscoring the Eagles 17-2 over the final 4:26 of the quarter starting with Smith’s triple.

Kylee Blacksten’s bucket inside provided WVU with its next points, before Kyah Watson, Nichols, Samuel and Sarah Bates connected from beyond the arc to turn a 54-37 lead into a 29-point advantage entering the fourth.

“When you’re not scoring the ball, you look at are we getting good shots or not getting good shots,” Plitzuweit said. “We did a good job last game of taking care of the basketball and getting good shots, but we weren’t making them. We were a little bit more relaxed tonight and our energy was good.”

Smith scored a season-high 20 points and has scored in double figures in all six games.

Hemingway followed with a season-high 15 on 6-of-9 shooting.

Samuel and Nichols also contributed season-high point totals of 12 and 10, respectively. Both players shot 4 of 5 and made two triples.

“Savannah is a great player. She’s really long, gets steals and gets her hands on the ball,” Smith said. “She can knock down threes. She’s an all-around player and really important for us. I’m happy to see her play well.”

Hemingway and Kylee Blacksten had six rebounds apiece to lead all players and Sarah Bates contributed a game-high five assists.

Tippy Robertson’s 12 points lead NC Central, which shot 23 of 63 as a team and never led. Kira Lowery added 11 points for a second-double figure scorer in defeat.

WVU’s 23 turnovers will certainly be a point of discussion ahead of Saturday’s home game against Delaware State, like NC Central, a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

“We had quite a few in transition making some rushed decisions,” Plitzuweit said. “We have to look at how to clean those things up, how to get to two feet and get on balance and take care of the basketball in those scenarios.”

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