West Virginia hoping extended time off proves beneficial at Texas to start two-game road trip

Whether or not a week off can change West Virginia’s fortunes away from home remains to be seen.

It’s clear, however, that the Mountaineers are hoping to make the most of six full days without a game in advance of Saturday’s 3 p.m. contest at Texas, one which West Virginia is seeking a regular season sweep at the Moody Center for a matchup that’ll air on the Longhorn Network.

To achieve it, the Mountaineers (8-14, 3-6) will have to do something they’ve yet to in eight tries this season — win outside of Morgantown. WVU is 0-4 in true road games and has the same mark in neutral site contests.

“I don’t know that I’ve found anything to single out. This is the hardest league in the country to win on the road and it’s especially hard this year looking at the statistics,” WVU interim head coach Josh Eilert said. “It’s not just us. People struggle in this conference on the road in general, but if you can control your travel and be efficient with that, you certainly have an advantage. 

“Otherwise, you try to pinpoint certain things you can improve and make sure your team is ready to play. Looking back at the Houston game, we weren’t ready to play. We ran into a buzzsaw with their defense and we had no pep in our step whatsoever. We look at different ways to do our schedule and make sure we’re ready to compete, but it’s a difficult challenge in this league to try and figure out how to get a win on the road.”

Feb 3, 2024; Morgantown, West Virginia, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Josh Eilert calls out a play during the second half against the Brigham Young Cougars at WVU Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

That’ll again be the case Saturday, although Texas (15-8, 4-6) has lost four of seven games since its setback in Morgantown on January 13.

The Longhorns have lost four times at home in Big 12 play, most recently Tuesday when a comeback attempt fell short against Iowa State, 70-65.

In the Mountaineers’ 76-73 triumph UT last month, WVU forced 22 turnovers, made 27-of-41 free throws and won the rebounding battle 32-31 despite playing without center Jesse Edwards.

While the defensive performance was one of West Virginia’s better ones within conference play, Eilert believes a more efficient offensive showing will be necessary in Austin after his team had 21 field goals and 16 turnovers in the first meeting with the Longhorns.

“I’ve watched the game two or three times since, and one of the big things that stands out to me is how poor we were offensively,” Eilert said. “We changed some things defensively going into that game and we executed our game plan fairly well and rebounded the ball well, but our offense was very stagnant. We took bad shots and had nine turnovers in the first 11 minutes. There’s a lot to be said for how we played offensively against Texas and that’s something we certainly have to shore up to put ourselves in a position to win on Saturday.” 

Pat Suemnick led WVU with 16 points in the first meeting with Texas, but his role has diminished over the last three games since Edwards’ return from a fractured wrist. Suemnick has 6 points since, while Edwards has 41 points over the last two games.

RaeQuan Battle continues to lead the Mountaineers with a 15.6 scoring average, followed by Edwards at 14.8, Quinn Slazinski (13.3) and Kerr Kriisa (11.8).

Battle has struggled of late with 31 points on 10-of-33 shooting over the last four games.

Eilert looks forward to Edwards giving it a go this time around against Texas, but believes a team effort is necessary for the Mountaineers to duplicate the rebounding effort from the earlier matchup with the Longhorns.

“There’s different things we’re doing defensively, especially with Jesse in the lineup and hopefully that helps us rebounding,” Eilert said. “I think back and Noah Farrakhan had seven rebounds and we need that type of effort from all of our guards regardless of whether Jesse is on the floor or not. They can’t look at Jesse as being the end all, be all on the rebounding end of things.”

Texas is led by one of the more prolific guards in college basketball, 6-footer Max Abmas, who averages 17.7 points and scored 32, including his team’s last 17 points, last month in Morgantown.

Dylan Disu, a versatile player in the front court, follows with a 16.2 scoring average on 50 percent field-goal shooting. Dillion Mitchell and Tyrese Hunter are other double-figure scorers at 10.9 apiece, while Mitchell’s 8.7 rebounding mark is tops on the team.

Guard Chendall Weaver is the team’s seventh-leading scorer at 4.6 points, but has recently assumed a more expanded role, including his first two starts of the season over the last two games. Weaver scored 5 points in 18 minutes when the teams met in Morgantown.

“There are certainly things we can take away from that game, but they’re playing a little different, we’re playing a little differently. The one standout I’ve seen in them since we’ve played them is Weaver,” Eilert said. “He’s playing at such a high level. He makes so many plays with his tenacity and will to compete each possession. They’ve inserted him into the starting lineup and he’s really making them go right now.”

The Mountaineers have a quick turnaround after facing Texas and will play Monday at TCU.

“You have to look at it one game at a time. TCU is not looking forward to us,” Eilert said. “They’re focused on Iowa State this Saturday in Ames. They’re in the same boat we are. We have to focus on Texas and we’ll have all day Sunday to turn the page.”

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