Da'Sean Butler, West Virginia's all-Big East swingman, once explained how current coach Bob Huggins differs from former coach John Beilein as such: Beilein teaches first and screams second. Huggins screams first, second and third and then gets down to the teaching.
Given their coach's quick fuse and harsh critiques, one might expect the Mountaineers would have shed their penchant for listless starts by the 34th game of the season. Seriously, who among them could possibly enjoy heading to the first timeout knowing what's transpired to that point will send spittle and invective spewing from the mouth of Mount Huggins?
For whatever the reason, West Virginia has been incapable of shaking its malady. Like a sleeping engine on a winter's morning, the Mountaineers are simply slow to warm. And while the affliction might one day prove their undoing, Friday wasn't that day.
If anything, West Virginia's 77-50 destruction of Morgan State at HSBC Arena spoke to the immensity of the Mountaineers' capabilities. They fell behind, 10-0. They needed almost eight minutes to score from the floor. And yet just seven minutes after their first field goal they had moved in front, by halftime they were up by double digits and the second half amounted to seven subs making early pitches for more playing time this season.
"We just -- we've done this -- we didn't attack them," Huggins said. "We were playing pitch and catch on the perimeter. We started some games that way. . . . I think after the first media timeout, we did a much better job of doing what we're good at doing."
So the players came to realize the error of their ways?
"Hopefully," Huggins said, "I helped them."
As the game reached halftime it became clear the great degree to which Morgan State (27-10) was overmatched. The Mountaineers missed 11 of their first 12 field-goal attempts, then made 13 of their next 20. The rebounding, even for half the half, took a decided and anticipated turn in West Virginia's favor. Meanwhile, Morgan State senior guard Reggie Holmes, the school's all-time scoring leader, missed his next 11 shots after draining a three for the game's first points. He finished 4 for 17 from the field while trying to seek out looks over 6-foot-9 sophomore Devin Ebanks.
"Watching tape [of] him the last three days, I really tried to study his moves to the basket," Ebanks said. "Two dribbles in, step back, create open shot. I was trying to eliminate his touches. When he got the ball just stay in his face and not let him get a clean shot off."
"He's a great defender," Holmes said. "The shots just weren't falling today."
At the other end, Morgan State strived to knock West Virginia off stride by paying extra attention to Butler, the Mountaineers' leading scorer. He responded by deferring to teammates, scoring only nine points while sophomores Kevin Jones and Ebanks struck for 17 and 16. Jones, a 6-8 forward from Mount Vernon, scored nine straight Mountaineer points as West Virginia closed a 14-5 deficit to 17-14.
"I think Jones, in the middle of our zone, he killed us," Holmes said.
"I felt in the beginning I wasn't being aggressive enough," Jones said. "I had to go and still play team basketball, but just be a little more aggressive. I mean, my shot was falling. I was just in one of those zones and I'm glad that it worked out for my team and it got us back into the game."
Morgan State lacked what it needed to sustain its early uprising. Holmes and center Kevin Thompson were limited by two first-half fouls. The Bears shot only 3 of 19 from three and produced assists on just three of their 18 field goals. Sophomore point guard Sean Thomas was severely overmatched.
"Those damn 40-minute games," joked Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman. "If we had it at 12, we would have won the game."