West Virginia coach Bob Huggins couldn’t find much right with his team’s last performance. Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy couldn’t give his team enough praise following its last game.
The former University of Cincinnati colleagues face off for the second time Wednesday night in Morgantown, where the sixth-ranked Mountaineers meet the 15th-ranked Rebels.
West Virginia (8-0) needed a layup by Da’Sean Butler with 1.2 seconds left Saturday to defeat upset-minded Cleveland State 80-78. The Mountaineers led by as many as 17 points in the second half, but they committed 11 of their season-high 17 turnovers in the final 20 minutes as they struggled against the Vikings’ 2-3 zone and zone press.
They gave up more than 66 points for the first time this season and let Cleveland State, which entered with a 4-7 record, shoot 50.0 percent from the field.
“I’ve never had a team give up that many layups in 28 years of coaching,” said Huggins, who needs one victory to pass Gene Bartow for 23rd place all-time with 648. “I have never coached a team that has that poor of help (defense). We are awful, just God awful.”
West Virginia, though, is allowing just 58.0 points per game. The Mountaineers will face a Mississippi team that’s among the Division I scoring leaders at 85.4 per contest.
The Rebels (10-1), looking to win seven straight for the first time since opening 13-0 in 2007-08, are trying to build off Saturday’s 108-64 victory over Centenary.
Mississippi shot 67.7 percent from the field – fourth-highest in program history – while recording its most lopsided victory since a 92-45 win over Morris Brown on Nov. 28, 2001. The Rebels had 32 assists, one shy of the school record.
“Today I thought we had a great rhythm,” Kennedy said. “I thought our team chemistry was outstanding. We’ve still got some issues, obviously, as most teams do in December, but I thought we stepped forward today.”
Kennedy was Huggins’ assistant at Cincinnati for four seasons before serving as the Bearcats’ interim head coach in 2005-06 following Huggins’ departure. The two squared off as opposing coaches for the first time Dec. 3 of last season, with West Virginia winning 80-78.
The Rebels shot 55.3 percent from the field in that matchup, but their 27-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents was snapped as Chris Warren missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 25 seconds left and a 25-footer as time expired.
Warren, among the SEC leaders this season with 18.3 points and 3.2 3-pointers per game, is 29 points shy of becoming the 31st player in Rebels history to score 1,000.
Butler, who had 22 points and 10 rebounds in last season’s victory at Oxford, leads the Mountaineers with 16.9 points per game.
West Virginia sophomore Kevin Jones has scored career highs in each of his last two games, including 23 points on 9-of-10 shooting Saturday.
The Mountaineers have won 29 straight December games in Morgantown since a 68-61 loss to Duquesne on Dec. 19, 2001.
The Rebels have never defeated a Top 10 non-conference opponent.