Past Virginia and Pitt, league schedule begins on road
Virginia was undefeated in eight games. Pitt was being ignored by its city and student body.
The Cavaliers lost to West Virginia for the second straight year. Pitt drew nearly 8,000 people in its Peterson Center, but didn’t win many hearts in losing, 69-60, to the bumptious Mountaineers.
With their forward-moving success, the Mountaineers leaped ahead from 18th place in the polls to 11th. The overall record is 9-1 and the next game that counts is against Coppin State of Baltimore, a team that needs to pay its bills by going on the road and staying on the road. The Eagles had played all 10 of their games away from home – and had never won.
After Coppin State comes Fordham, a team that started 4-5 and has never scared anybody since the long-gone days of Coach Richard “Digger” Phelps, who used the Rams as a stepping stone to get to South Bend, Indiana, and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
West Virginia’s win over previously unbeaten Virginia was revealing. The Mountaineers won without much success with its constricting press.
Jevon Carter showed himself to be both versatile and as valuable as platinum or gold to his team. Nobody is going to step forward and say: “As Carter goes, so go the Mountaineers,” but as the team’s ball handler, leading scorer, best free throw shooter, best defender, total floor general and psychological fulcrum, nobody needs to say anything.
West Virginia has now played 10 games without Asa Ahmad and will play five more before he can return on Jan. 9 from an NCAA suspension.
Because Daxter Miles has refined his free throw shooting and pays attention to defense, he has helped Carter. With Lamont West occasionally finding his much-needed three-point gift, his value has been enough to beat all comers except 7th-ranked Texas A&M.
James “Beetle” Bolden is a quick-footed scorer and seems to care about being useful in times when the pressure defense is disruptive and draining to opponents.
Chase Harler also has the hustle and court presence to be of some help. Sagaba Konate hasn’t been much of a factor and his foul problems only seem to frustrate him.
Ahmad should bolster the player rotation and mean fewer minutes for Teddy Allen, Maciej Bender and Wesley Harris – three players whose early-season accomplishments have been too few.
In their first-half smothering of faltering Pitt, the Mountaineers used their pressure, the perimeter shooting of Carter and the Panthers’ inability to keep any fingers in the dike to move out to a 45-27 lead at the half.
Without the choking pressure and stamina-sapping defense it presented in the first half, West Virginia saw its once-fierce lead wither away. The Panthers once drew within two points of the shrinking lead – but still fell – and left their T-shirt-wearing student body to silently filter out into the cold Pennsylvania night in search of a warm bar or sandwich shop.
In their upcoming conference game at Oklahoma State on Dec. 29, the Mountaineers will face a team that was 7-2 overall with its losses being inflicted by Texas A&M and Wichita State. The Cowboys also beat Pitt, 73-65, in a game played in Brooklyn.
West Virginia fans will continue to peek ahead to Jan. 27 when Kentucky comes to Morgantown. Ahmad will be back by that red-letter date.
With Carter providing poise, clinging individual defense and considerable stamina and energy, the Mountaineers appear to be able to land victory after victory at home. Ahmad has to come forth and aid in scoring and rebounding, especially in half-court games where the WVU pressure isn’t going to win the night.