Though West Virginia has had trouble shooting the basketball, it has more than compensated by executing the aggressive, pressure defense that’s a trademark of Bob Huggins-coached teams.
While it’s uncertain if some extended practice time will improve their accuracy, the No. 22 Mountaineers might have enough defensive talent to continue their recent success over struggling Marshall on Sunday in the Capital Classic at Charleston, West Virginia.
Huggins’ team is at the bottom of the Big 12 in field-goal shooting (41.0 percent) and 3-point shooting (29.6). The Mountaineers (8-1) have shot better than 46.0 percent overall only once and are at 36.5 percent over the last two games, including 9 of 38 on 3-pointers.
They bounced back from a 74-73 loss to LSU on Dec. 4 with last Sunday’s 67-42 win at Northern Kentucky despite going a season-worst 4 of 21 from beyond the arc.
“We just struggle shooting the ball,” Huggins said. “We haven’t finished very well inside, and honestly, haven’t scored very well in transition.”
Senior Juwan Staten averages a team-high 15.0 points but has shot 12 of 40 (30.0 percent) in the last three contests. Second-leading scorer Jonathan Holton is 3 of 24 from 3-point range.
Though his players were in the midst of final exams, Huggins had some much-needed time between games to work on the offense.
“I think we can shoot the ball … I don’t know,” he said. “(Shooting) is repetition. When you’re not in the gym as much and you don’t shoot the ball, you lose that touch.”
Amid the offensive issues, the Mountaineers have rarely lost their defensive focus.
Their 14.0 steals per game and 1.29 steals-to-turnover ratio both lead the nation, and their average of 22.9 turnovers forced ranks second. Only two of their opponents have topped 70 points.
“(West Virginia) is one of the best at getting into you,” said first-year Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni, the younger brother of former NBA coach Mike D’Antoni.
The Mountaineers have held Marshall (3-5) under 65 points in each matchup during their three-game winning streak in the series. West Virginia has shot at least 50.0 percent twice in that span, including last season’s 76-64 victory as Staten had 19 points.
West Virginia has won seven of eight in the series and would appear to be in good position to extend that run against a Marshall squad that’s shot 36.0 percent during a five-game skid.
“It’s just a matter of growing as a team,” D’Antoni said. “If we get 10 losses in a row, we’re still growing. It’s just a maturing process.”
The Herd made strides last Saturday when they recovered from a 26.9-percent first-half shooting performance to go 15 of 31 over the final 20 minutes of a 73-69 loss to Penn State.
“I think playing Penn State (that) hard and going through a week of practice is a good confidence boost going into the game on Sunday,” said forward Jay Johnson, who scored a game-high 19 off the bench.
Teammate Ryan Taylor averaged 16.8 points in the first six games but has totaled 21 in the last two while shooting 3 of 9 in each. He fouled out with seven points against the Mountaineers last season.
Marshall has lost four in a row against Top 25 teams since a 75-71 win over then-No. 21 West Virginia on Jan. 19, 2011.