No. 15 West Virginia struggles early, beats VMI 90-55
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) It took nine games for West Virginia’s Daxter Miles Jr. to start to find a rhythm.
Miles scored a season-high 20 points and the 15th-ranked Mountaineers overcame an early lull to beat VMI 90-55 on Saturday and give coach Bob Huggins his 799th career win.
Miles missed the first three games with an unspecified illness and was ejected for throwing an elbow in the first half of a close win over Virginia last Saturday. The lack of court time set him back on a team where a dozen players are getting extensive minutes.
Against VMI, the junior went 6 of 9 from the field, including 5 of 6 from 3-point range.
“It feels good,” Miles said. “I just had to get back into the basic of things, and just whatever it takes me to do. Did I feel like it was my time? No. Everybody has roles and we all kind of know what each other likes to do.”
West Virginia (8-1) followed up a 53-point win over Western Carolina on Wednesday night with a lackluster first half to finish its final exams week.
VMI (1-7) accomplished what no other mid-major opponent has done in the first half this season - handle West Virginia’s full-court pressure defense and keep up in scoring for a while.
The Keydets lost by 18 points at home to Gardner-Webb in their last game but were scrappy out of the gate against the often-substituting Mountaineers.
After falling behind by 16, the Keydets were within 22-17 before Miles made two 3-pointers, and Elijah Macon’s free throw with 4 minutes left until halftime put the Mountaineers ahead by double digits for good, 32-22.
“I thought we competed, especially for the first 25 minutes,” VMI coach Dan Earl said. “I give West Virginia a ton of credit. They come at you for 40 minutes. They wore us down a little bit.”
Esa Ahmad added 12 points and Brandon Watkins had a season-high 11 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for West Virginia.
QJ Peterson scored 17 points for VMI, which was limited to three field goals over the final 12 minutes of the game.
VMI: The Keydets might win more games if they match the intensity that they had midway through the first half, when they went on an 11-0 run, including seven points by Peterson, who led West Virginia’s Hedgesville High School to a state championship in 2012.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers lead the nation in forced turnovers with 26.5 per game, including at least 34 turnovers in two of their last three games. Two years ago VMI committed 36 against them. But the defensive effort wasn’t there from start-to-finish Saturday for West Virginia, which forced 22.
“Twenty-two forced turnovers to most people is good,” Huggins said. “And we’re looking at it like we should’ve had some more.”
The Mountaineers haven’t gotten much production lately out of Nathan Adrian, who no longer is the team’s top scorer after getting two points each against Western Carolina and VMI.
West Virginia should move up in the AP poll after No. 12 Saint Mary’s and No. 13 Xavier lost earlier in the week.
West Virginia isn’t going to win many games at the free throw line. The Mountaineers are shooting 66 percent from the line this season and went 26 of 42 (62 percent) on Saturday. They fared better from 3-point range, going 10 of 19.
VMI: Hosts Charleston Southern on Tuesday.
West Virginia: Can give Huggins his 800th win when it hosts Missouri-Kansas City next Saturday.
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