MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In the lead-up to Saturday’s matchup with UAB, much of West Virginia’s focus centered around containing Blazers’ guard Jordan “Jelly” Walker.
How could it have not?
Walker came to the WVU Coliseum the nation’s leading scorer at 25.7 points per game and it was hard to imagine the Blazers handing the Mountaineers their third loss without him being at or near his best.
Although Walker scored 19 points, including 13 in the second half, the defense of Kedrian Johnson and Joe Toussaint helped create an inefficient performance from the Blazers’ go-to weapon in West Virginia’s 81-70 victory.
Walker made only 6-of-17 shots and though he led all players with seven assists, he also had a game-high seven turnovers.
“We’re quick. We’re strong. We’re going to pressure you and run you off the 3 point line,” Toussaint said. “That was the big key today — running Jordan off the 3-point line, because he’s a really good 3-point shooter. We just ran him into help and it worked out for us really well.”
Eleven of Walker’s 17 shots still came from beyond the arc, as did four of his six field goals.
Still, with the exception of the Blazers’ 8-0 run that Walker accounted for by himself to tie the game at 45 early in the second half, West Virginia rarely let the Blazers’ focal point grow comfortable during the game.
“It’s the ball pressure. We speed guys up and make them go faster than they actually want to go,” Johnson said. “Me and Joe on the floor is definitely going to continue to cause havoc.”
As the starting point guard, Johnson drew the assignment on Walker early on and for much of the game. One year after helping hold Walker to 13 points on 6-of-20 shooting with seven turnovers in the Mountaineers’ road win over the Blazers, Johnson was again his usual disruptive self defensively.
Walker went to halftime with six points on 2-of-8 shooting and having committed four of his team’s 11 turnovers.
“You heard all week how good the little guy is in Birmingham and I kept saying he hasn’t seen Keedy yet,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “Keedy did a terrific job and when Keedy wasn’t on him, Joe did a good job. Not just on the defensive end, but those two are pretty hard to guard on the offensive end.”
Johnson and Toussaint gave the Mountaineers a big offensive lift by combining for 31 points in the win.
Johnson scored a team-high 17 points while making half of his 10 field-goal attempts and all seven of his foul shots.
Toussaint continues to be West Virginia’s most productive reserve and was again Saturday with 14 points and three steals in 25 minutes. Together, WVU’s point guards combined to make all 11 of their free-throw attempts.
“He sets the tone for our other guys,” Huggins said of Toussaint. “He plays so hard. He can do so many things. He passes the ball and gets the ball to the right people at the right times. He’s a good free throw shooter. You put he and Keedy in the backcourt, it’s hard to get a good shot.”
Huggins has played both Johnson and Toussaint together at times and though it makes for an undersized backcourt, the combination isn’t likely to go away.
Against certain teams, including several in Big 12 Conference play, it may be a tougher task in that it puts the Mountaineers at a size disadvantage.
Yet it also makes West Virginia a quicker and more defensive-minded team, one that can trouble opposing guards and create more in transition.
“We can play two point guards,” Johnson said. “Joe is a tough guy. He’s not going to back down from anybody. Other teams in our conference like Texas play two point guards. That’s something we can do.”