West Virginia hangs on against Jacksonville State
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Wesley Harris scored a career-high 20 points and had eight rebounds to lead West Virginia over Jacksonville State, 74-72, on Saturday.
Despite a sloppy shooting performance in the first half (13 of 34), the Mountaineers (7-4) got out to as much as a nine-point lead over the Gamecocks. However, Jacksonville State (7-5) reduced its deficit and even took the lead with less than five minutes to go.
JSU’s Jason Burnell missed a 3-point attempt with eight seconds left, and WVU’s Chase Harler grabbed the rebound. After getting fouled, Harler missed his first free throw, Burnell grabbed the rebound but overthrew a pass to a teammate as time expired.
“This sends us home on a good note,” Harris said. “It sends us home on Christmas break with something good to think about and come back to get better and get ready for conference.”
Despite the win, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was not happy with his team’s performance.
“I’m just tired of it. I’m just tired of having to fight with guys to play the game that they say they love,” Huggins said. “It’s a great game because you can’t cheat it. If you don’t practice, the ball doesn’t go in. If you don’t get in shape, you can’t run up and down the floor. If you don’t slide your feet, you can’t play defense. You can’t cheat it. Guys who try to cheat it, the results aren’t very good.”
Lamont West scored 18 points for the Mountaineers. Brandon Knapper added 12 points.
West Virginia defensive standout Sagaba Konate missed the game because of a knee injury and will be out the next two to four weeks, Huggins said. Mountaineers leading scorer Esa Ahmad only saw four minutes and did not play in the second half.
“I think it’s the cumulative effect,” Huggins said of Ahmad. “It wasn’t so much just tonight. It’s the cumulative effect. It’s a culmination of a lot of things. You can’t turn it over five times a game. You can’t shoot 19 percent from 3 and keep shooting 3s. You should be the first one in the gym not the last.”
Marlon Hunter led the Gamecocks with a career-high 26 points and had seven rebounds. Christian Cunningham added 13 points.
“That’s who he (Hunter) is,” Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper said. “He’s one of those guys. He’s the Energizer bunny. He plays hard. He’s a competitor. I thought Christian Cunningham was terrific. I thought he did everything. I thought he was out best player on the floor today.”
Jacksonville State outrebounded West Virginia, 36-34.
Despite the loss, the Gamecocks have won seven of their last nine games and have plenty of momentum heading into Ohio Valley Conference play starting Jan. 3 against Belmont in Nashville.
The Mountaineers have shot an average of 37 percent over their past four games. That must improve as they get set to take on Lehigh and Texas Tech after an eight-day break.
Freshman Derek Culver made his West Virginia debut and scored four points and had one rebound in 10 minutes. Culver missed the Mountaineers’ first 10 games after being suspended in November because of a violation of team rules.