Entering Tuesday against Jacksonville State, West Virginia’s offense was still trying to figure itself out.
The Mountaineers entered Tuesday shooting just above 33 percent on the season, ranking in the bottom-10 of the national ranks. West Virginia would figure things out in the short-term against the Gamecocks, beating them 70-57, and bouncing back from a bad loss last Friday.
“Everybody in the locker room had a lot to do with winning that game. It was a buy-in game in so many ways,” West Virgina interim head coach Josh Eilert said.
“I really think it had a lot to do with our defense,” Eilert said of the bounce-back performance from his offense. “In the Monmouth game, I hit two possessions of zone (defense). When those guys are based out there and chasing and trying to take things away, and play our principles, it takes a toll on you on the offensive end.”
West Virginia made it known following their loss to Monmouth last Friday that they didn’t utilize Jesse Edwards enough in the post. Edwards would be the focal point of WVU’s offense early, scoring 10 points in the first half, which included multiple rim-rocking plays.
“You look at the box score and the idea was to get Jesse as many touches as possible. He only got six field goal attempts, but he drew 10 fouls, Eilert said. “The game plan was to play through Jesse and we need to do that as much as we can.”
Edwards would not be the only one to chip in this time, as the Mountaineers found a sweet spot from beyond the three-point line. Part of West Virginia’s issue on offense through their first two games was their inability to make shots from beyond the arc. West Virginia made 14 of their 52 three-point-attempts over their first two games, but didn’t have nearly that type of volume on Tuesday.
“I think the biggest thing from tonight compared to the Monmouth game is we saved a lot of legs in the zone,” Eilert said.
West Virginia went 8 for 19 from three on the evening, including knocking down a pair of three’s before the end of the half, ending the first half on a 14-3 run.
In total, WVU shot 51 percent from the field, their best shooting effort on the young season.
The first half started slow yet again for West Virginia, crawling their way through the opening minutes. Jacksonville State and the Mountaineers traded leads for about the first 10 minutes. The Mountaineers then went on a 6-0 run, with five of their points coming at the free throw line, taking a 24-19 lead.
Over the final five minutes of the first half, West Virginia was in full command. Going inside out on offense and using Edwards’ skill and size, West Virginia carried a 40-27 lead into halftime.
In the second half, West Virginia wouldn’t let up.
WVU scored five quick points n the opening 90 seconds of the half, and did not allow the Gamecocks to get comfortable. The Mountaineer lead would shrink to as little as eight, but West Virginia had a response every time the Gamecocks tried to get back into the game.
West Virginia led by 18 with 6:52 to play as Kobe Johnson, who had a career-high 19 points, made a layup, following a Quinn Slazinski three-pointer. KyKy Tandy would shoot Jacksonville State back into the game, making a jumper and then a pair of three’s.
Tandy had a team-high 18 points, shooting 7 for 18 from the floor. The remainder of the Gamecocks shot a combined 33 percent on the night and had nine turnovers.
With under four minutes to go, West Virginia didn’t allow the Gamecocks to get within striking distance. Slazinski would make a pair of free throws — something WVU somewhat struggled to do — before Josiah Harris made his third three-pointer of the game to put West Virginia in front for good.
“I think we were pushing the pace on an extremely high level,” Slazinski said of the offense.
Slazinski scored 19 points in addition to Johnson, while Edwards added 14 points, and Harris chipped in with 12.