Bob Huggins has been searching for someone to step up and provide some consistent offense for undefeated West Virginia.
Kevin Jones appears to be up to the challenge.
Coming off the highest-scoring game of his career, Jones looks to help the sixth-ranked Mountaineers to an eighth consecutive win Saturday when they visit Cleveland State.
West Virginia (7-0) is off to its best start since opening the 2004-05 season with 10 straight victories and is enjoying its highest ranking since it was also sixth Feb. 23, 1982. Its offense, though, has sputtered in the last two games.
After shooting 36.4 percent from the floor in a 68-39 victory over Duquesne on Dec. 9, the Mountaineers shot 39.7 percent in last Saturday’s 69-43 win over Coppin State. West Virginia really struggled from 3-point range Saturday, going 4 of 26, and even had trouble from the foul line, shooting a season-low 55.9 percent (19 of 34).
Despite another lousy shooting performance by the team, Jones played well.
The sophomore forward finished with a career-high 22 points on 7-of-16 shooting and also had a career-best 11 rebounds. Jones, the only West Virginia player to score in double figures every game, is averaging 14.4 points on 54.2 percent shooting.
“He seemingly just gets better every game,” Huggins told West Virginia’s official Web site. “KJ really works at it. He listens, he tries to do what you ask him to do and he works really hard in practice.”
Against Coppin State, Huggins rested forward Devin Ebanks (sore left hand) and guard Casey Mitchell (sore right knee).
Mitchell, mired in a three-game shooting slump, will not play in this game, but Ebanks is expected to return.
Ebanks had 10 points and 17 rebounds in last season’s 53-43 victory at home over Cleveland State (4-7). Senior forward Da’Sean Butler, averaging a team-best 16.7 points, scored 18.
The Vikings gave several teams fits a year ago. They won 26 games and beat then-No. 12 Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
It hasn’t been as easy for Cleveland State this year.
The Vikings, who returned only two starters from last season, have dropped six of seven, including a 73-49 loss to then-No. 5 Kentucky on Nov. 24. Cleveland State’s only win in that span came against NAIA squad Wilberforce.
“We aren’t playing very well at this moment but we will go back to it and figure something out,” coach Gary Waters said after Tuesday’s 78-70 home loss to Robert Morris. “We have a tough game coming up Saturday, and I have to get the team ready for that both inside and outside.”
Norris Cole, Cleveland State’s leader with 16.2 points per game, scored a team-high 12 against West Virginia last season.
The Mountaineers have won all three meetings with the Vikings, and this will be their first game at Cleveland State since Dec. 30, 1977.