MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — The guard duo of Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil combined for 46 points as West Virginia held off Kent State 63-50 at the WVU Coliseum on Sunday.
Sherman and McNeil carried the Mountaineer offense as the only scorers in double figures, but WVU’s defense lifted the squad to victory as they held the Golden Flashes under 40 percent shooting for the game. Once again, though, WVU’s free throw shooting haunted the Mountaineers, as they made just 54.2 percent from the charity stripe.
Despite the double-digit win for WVU, Kent State kept the game close for the majority of the contest. Coach Bob Huggins wasn’t pleased with his team’s energy level against the Golden Flashes, especially after WVU’s upset victory over No. 15 UConn.
“We didn’t have energy, we just didn’t pass the ball,” Huggins said. “We were starting to pass the ball, share the ball and take the ball away from their defense [against UConn]. Today, we were right back where we were in Charleston.”
West Virginia committed nine turnovers in the first half alone, keeping Kent State in the contest throughout the game. In fact, Kent State threatened with the lead with as little as four minutes left in the half, while WVU took a one-possession lead into halftime.
Sherman and McNeil’s offensive prowess was already sneaking in, as they combined for 22 points in the first half. Sincere Carry also had a strong offensive half for Kent State, adding nine for the Golden Flashes.
The Mountaineer defense turned on in the second half, holding Kent State to 10-for-30 for the half, led by another nine points from Carry. The shift in energy for WVU was clear on defense, and was boosted by some big plays from bench players like Pauly Paulicap, who made a chase-down block to save a bucket from Kent State with 13 minutes remaining.
“We’re standing in front of people, and we’re spending more time with individual defense guarding the ball. I thought they turned it around,” Huggins said. “We didn’t play with any energy, and him making those plays energized everybody.”
The Mountaineers caught a break late in the second half when Kent State coach Rob Senderoff was ejected with two technical fouls in succession. That gave Sean McNeil the opportunity to take four technical free throws, all of which he made.
That was far from the norm for West Virginia, however. Once again the Mountaineers struggled at the line, making just over half their free throws, with a 33.3-percent mark in the first half alone.
“We have to get back on it,” Huggins said. “When Taz goes up and misses two or three, and Sean goes up and misses two or three, we weren’t in it. Taz said so much at halftime.”
Sherman led the game with 27 points, adding five rebounds and three assists. McNeil added 19 points, a season-high for him. Together, they made four three-pointers.
Jalen Bridges added three points for the Mountaineers in 19 minutes, but grabbed six rebounds to lead WVU. Moving forward, though, Huggins hopes Bridges can bring more to the offense and become the team’s third scorer.
“Jalen has been really good. Defensively, he’s done a really good job. He’s kept balls alive. I think he’s been fine,” Huggins said. “He has been hesitant to shoot for some reason….I repeatedly tell JB that we need you to shoot the ball — it can’t just be Sean ant Taz.”
Carry led Kent State with 18 points, including a pair of threes. Justyn Hamilton added double-double for the Golden Flashes, scoring 10 and grabbing 12 rebounds.
West Virginia improves to 9-1 on the season with the win, and has two games remaining in non-conference play. The Mountaineers next hit the road to face UAB on Dec. 18, then host Youngstown State on Dec. 22 before turning their focus to the Big 12.