Sports

Mountaineers' defense too much for Eagles

West Virginia's Alex Ruoff looks to drive around Winthrop's Michael Jenkins.
West Virginia's Alex Ruoff looks to drive around Winthrop's Michael Jenkins.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- There wasn't much for Winthrop coach Randy Peele to say after Saturday's 70-53 whipping at the hands of West Virginia.

"I'm disgusted, quite honestly," he said.

And with good reason.

The Mountaineers (5-1) took it to the Eagles (4-3) on the defensive end, took them out of any semblance of offense, forced them into bad shots and seemingly made every pass an adventure. And perhaps what disgusted Peele more than anything, was his players didn't respond well to what they had to know was coming.

"More than anyone we've played this season," Peele said, "they made each catch more difficult. We knew they were the best team we've played in terms of doing that. For 40 minutes, they made if very difficult to catch the ball."

Making a pass at times was about as difficult as throwing a rock through a keyhole. The Mountaineers got into the passing lanes and kept the ball on one side of the floor. On those occasions when they were able to get the ball to the top of the key, the Eagles weren't able to get the ball into the lane off the dribble or to make a clean pass to anyone for an open shot.

"They made it difficult for anybody to catch it," Winthrop's Michael Jenkins said, "and they pushed our offense out farther on the floor."

If they were fortunate enough to catch it, putting it in the hole became just as much an adventure.

The Eagles were held to their lowest point total since getting only 51 at Texas A&M last December, but the most glaring number was the field goal percentage -- 29.8 -- which was the lowest in at least three seasons. And the Eagles had to get better in the second half just to get to that. In the first half, they shot just 4-of-21, 19 percent.

Jenkins was 3-for-15 and didn't get his first bucket until 7:35 to play. Taj McCullough was 1-for-6, Chris Gaynor 3-for-7.

Only freshman center Charles Corbin -- 4-for-7, 13 points -- got it in the net with any regularity. Antwon Harris had 11 points, but nine came at the free throw line.

"Too many times," Peele said, "we literally made one pass and settled (for a shot). But that's where we are right now. My biggest concern coming into the game was our ability to score. I had told our guys their defense was tough."

And that put emphasis on being able to make a play off the dribble and that didn't happen often.

"It was frustrating," Jenkins said, "but it was that way for everybody."

Peele said the final score didn't really reflect the toughness of the game. He said it was more like an "eight-point game" and perhaps he's correct, because the Mountaineers weren't exactly world beaters on the offensive end, either.

Peele would have taken his chances coming in if he knew they'd score just 70 points and shoot 41 percent.

"That's not bad," Peele said.

But not good enough when you can't score.

And they had no answer for 6-8 Joe Alexander, who made some big-time moves, hit 6-of-13 shots, led all scorers with 19 and added 10 rebounds.

"We couldn't guard him," Peele said.

Despite shooting 19 percent in the first half, the Eagles trailed just 32-24 at the half because they hit 15-of-19 free throws and the Mountaineers jacked up 18 3-pointers and hit just four, at least three times passing up shots at the rim to kick it out for a 3.

"I'd tried to be positive at the half," Peele said. "We hadn't played well and we were still in pretty good position."

West Virginia pushed the lead to 14 early in the second half, before the Eagles put together a little spurt.

When Jenkins hit his first field goal with 7:35 left, the Eagles were still down just eight, 52-44. But Gaynor picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench for almost three minutes and the Mountaineers scored seven unanswered points to go up 59-44.

Winthrop's offense didn't produce a decent shot while Gaynor was out. He came back with 4:26 left, but fouled out 26 seconds later.

"They just kept coming and coming after us," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "We beat a good team, even though we didn't shoot well. We guarded and we out-rebounded them."

Mostly, the Mountaineers took the Eagles out of their comfort zone.

"You have to be able to make plays to beat West Virginia, and you have to be able to play off the dribble," Peele said. "We just flat out don't understand there we have to execute on the road to beat a Big East-caliber team. We would have to execute at a higher level to beat them."

The Eagles try again on Tuesday, when they host Akron in the Winthrop Coliseum at 7 p.m.

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