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Mountaineers overcome poor first half riding McNeil’s hot hand

West Virginia closed out the month undefeated on Wednesday evening, overcoming a slow start, but then picking things up in the second half, defeating Youngstown State 82-52.

With three days until Christmas and most students home for break, both West Virginia and Youngstown State came out flat. In an ugly first half, WVU shot only 23%, and went 7-for-30 from the field.  

Youngstown State, led by former WVU director of operations Jerrod Calhoun, didn’t fare much better in the opening frame. The Penguins shot 9-for-27 in the first half, while only making one three-pointer on eight attempts. 

In a half where both teams struggled to score, it would be WVU that took the lead into the locker room. Down by one, WVU forward Pauly Paulicap gave the Mountaineers the lead off a putback layup in the closing seconds of the half.  

West Virginia took a 24-23 lead into the break with Jalen Bridges leading the way with six points and seven rebounds. For Youngstown State, guard Myles Hunter led the way with nine points and seven rebounds, managing to not miss a shot from the field. However, Hunter’s presence would not be felt much in the second half, as he only scored two more points the remainder of the contest. 

In the second half, West Virginia took control of the game behind their pressure on defense and the smooth shooting of guard Sean McNeil. 

The Mountaineers got their early second half spark from Taz Sherman, as the senior guard made back-to-back three-pointers at the 18:27 and 18:00 mark, forcing Calhoun to take a timeout. The pair of threes gave WVU a 31-23 lead, and they never looked back. 

Sean McNeil, who only took one shot in the first half, would get going shortly after Sherman’s pair of threes and open up the game for the Mountaineers. McNeil managed to score 14 points in just under five minutes of play in the early parts of the second half. 

McNeil got his jump shot going by making his first two three-point attempts to push the lead to 43-31. 

After making two threes, Youngstown State’s Dwayne Cohill received a technical foul when he expressed his frustrations to the officials. The wheels were starting to fall off for the Penguins, as the team lost whatever rhythm they had because of the relentless pressure from the Mountaineer defense. Youngstown State turned the ball over 20 times, and a number of those were in the early stages of the second half.  

McNeil made both technical free throws, and extended WVU’s lead to 45-31. After making the free throws, McNeil continued to do what he wanted, as he put in back-to-back three-pointers to give WVU a commanding 51-33 lead. 

After scoring 14 points in under five minutes, McNeil would go on to score nine more points. His next two shots were jumpers from inside the arc, but the form stayed consistent as he saw just about everything fall. McNeil finished his scoring with two layups, one of which was an and-one. McNeil finished the night with a game-high 23 points, while shooting 8-of-9 from the field, and 4-for-4 from beyond the arc. 

Behind McNeil’s hot hand in the second half and 11 second-half points from Taz Sherman, the Mountaineers would cruise in the latter parts of the second half. Malik Curry added seven second-half points, while Kedrian Johnson and Pauly Paulicap added four points apiece in the second half as well. 

With the second half scoring barrage and heavy defensive pressure, West Virginia would go on to win in blowout fashion, as the Mountaineers took home an 82-52 victory. 

McNeil led the way for the Mountaineers with 23 points, while Taz Sherman and Malik Curry also reached double-figures, with Sherman scoring 16 and Curry scoring 12.

Chris Shelton led Youngstown State with 13 points and four rebounds, while Michael Akuchie was the only other Penguin that registered double-figures, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds. 

The 11-1 Mountaineers will now take an eight-game winning streak into Christmas break, and will be a serious contender to be ranked in the top 25. WVU received 57 votes in the AP poll on Monday, which placed them 27th in the country. 

West Virginia will now look forward to Big 12 play, as the team’s next game is on New Year’s Day at No. 16 Texas, before traveling to TCU on Jan. 3.

Photo by Dale Sparks, All Pro Photography

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