Mountaineers strong finish nets CBI victory

March 21, 2019

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University’s first experience in the College Basketball Invitational did not start as planned. Grand Canyon University, the runner-up in last week’s Western Athletic Conference tournament, came into Morgantown and battled with the Mountaineers in the first half. In the end, however, WVU showed its resolve to pull away for a 77-63 win in a CBI first-round game.

“I think we came out really flat,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “We kept trying to sub and get the right group in there that we could do a better job defensively.”

On Tuesday, Huggins said GCU (20-14) would likely be the biggest team the Mountaineers (15-20) played against this season. On Wednesday, in the early portion of the first half, that length clearly bothered West Virginia. The Antelopes came out playing physical in the paint and for a time dominated WVU on the boards.

“When I watched them on film, I knew they’d be physical,” Huggins said. “They’re not just big, they’re skilled. They pass it well. They shoot it well. That’s what I kept telling our guys -- we’ve got to push them out of their comfort zone. If you let them play comfortable, they’re really good -- really, really good.”

GCU led by seven points midway through the first half, but WVU rallied in the final 10 minutes. The Mountaineers capped a late run in the half when junior guard Chase Harler stole a GCU pass, with the ball finding junior forward Logan Routt. With junior guard Jermaine Haley streaking down the court, Routt reminded the 5,313 fans in the WVU Coliseum that he was once a high school quarterback.

Routt hit Haley in stride, who then threw down an emphatic dunk as time expired to give West Virginia a 36-32 lead at the break.

“Defense turned everything around for us,” Huggins said. “We started taking things away. They weren’t able to run what they wanted to run, and we got a couple of steals that led to layups. Everybody I got can dunk, now I don’t know if all of them play defense.”

The Antelopes came out ready to battle some more in the second half and after going back and forth with the Mountaineers led by two points with 9:40 to play. West Virginia’s defense clamped down again as the Mountaineers went from being tied 51-51 to leading by as many as 18 down the stretch.

GCU head coach Dan Majerle, a former Olympian and NBA All-Star, said he thought his

team ran out of gas after last week’s run to the WAC championship game.

“We played those three games in the WAC,” Majerle said. “This is the first time tonight I’ve played nine guys. I was really only playing about six guys in the tournament. I thought we lost our legs against New Mexico State on the third night of three games.

“Our travel was great. Our president stepped up and got us a charter, so we can’t blame anything on the travel. It was really nice.

“The charter was great. We got here, and everybody here has been terrific. It wasn’t the travel. It was more West Virginia, and how they pushed the pace and beat us on the boards. Like I said, our guys just didn’t find a way in the second half to get it done.”

Oscar Frayer finished with 13 points to lead GCU while Damari Milstead scored 12.

Haley led WVU with 24 points while Emmitt Matthews and Lamont West each chipped in with 11 points. Harler also scored in double-digits with 10.

“Jermaine (Haley) doesn’t want to be looked at as a pig,” Huggins said.

“He enjoys passing the ball — he enjoys that part of it. That’s why he likes being point guard, because he can pass the ball and get other people shots.

“I think he just missed enough (shots0 early on. He missed three or four early on, and I think he just put his head down and decided to go score.”

West Virginia advances to the CBI’s second round, where the Mountaineers will host Coastal Carolina at 7 p.m. Monday.

The Chanticleers (16-16) beat Howard 81-72 on Thursday in their first-round game.