MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) – By his own admission, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins’ team defense has been atrocious for three games.
The Mountaineers found themselves last in the Big 12 in field-goal percentage and ninth (of 10 teams) in scoring defense.
Enter Texas Christian.
WVU’s struggles continued in a closely contested first half, but the Mountaineers turned up their defensive effort in the second to knock off TCU 81-59 on Saturday.
“They’re getting the idea,” Huggins said of his players. “We’ve lost some offense, but we guarded today. We did a so-much better job. They shot 50 percent the first half and 29 percent the second half. We guarded better.”
The Mountaineers (16-13, 8-8 Big 12) led only 39-36 at halftime, but went on a 25-4 run starting early in the second to pull completely away from the Horned Frogs at 69-44 with 6:49 left.
WVU allowed just eight field goals by the Horned Frogs in the second half. It was the least amount of field goals allowed by WVU during a Big 12 half. It also was a season-low point production (59) in the Big 12 against the Mountaineers.
Juwan Staten, the Big 12’s second-leading scorer at 18.1 points per game, credited the defensive improvement in the second half to Huggins.
“Our intensity level just wasn’t as high as it needed to be for as high as the stakes were in this game,” Staten said. “At halftime, coach just got us to us, gave us a little piece of reality. Told us what we needed to do if we had any hopes of playing in the postseason. And we just came out in the second half with a different mentality.”
Staten has scored 14 or more points in 21 straight games and finished with 17 points, five assists and four rebounds. Eron Harris, who entered the game third in the Big 12 averaging 18 points, reached his season average to lead the Mountaineers.
Nathan Adrian added 14 points, Devin Williams had 10 points and 10 rebounds and Chase Connor hit the first three 3-pointers of his career in the first half.
“I think the biggest difference might have been our attitude,” Staten added. “We came out more hungry and just realized this was a must-win game if we wanted to have hopes of postseason.”
The Mountaineers swept the Horned Frogs (9-19, 0-16) in two games this season. They have yet to lose to TCU in four games.
“It’s the same adage for us every game,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “We have a good first half, but then struggle in the second. I thought our guys shut it down later on in the game. I do not think many people understand how hard it is to compete in athletics when you are outmanned.”
Karviar Shepherd led the Frogs with 14 points, Jarvis Ray scored 13 and Kyan Anderson 10. Anderson had been averaging almost 17 points for the season, and 21.4 for the eight games in February. He was shooting 50 percent from the beyond the 3-point line.
WVU had lost three straight coming in, but can remain hopeful of finishing in the top six of the Big 12 so they can receive a bye in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament, scheduled for March 12-15 in Kansas City. The Mountaineers entered and finished the day alone in sixth place.
In the three consecutive losses for Bob Huggins’ team — all by double figures — the Mountaineers shot the ball at 40 percent or worse, while allowing their opposition to shoot over 50 percent.
This day, WVU shot 43 percent (27 of 63) and held TCU to 39.2 percent from the floor (20 of 51).
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