MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP)—Bob Huggins couldn’t take all the credit for his first signature victory as coach at West Virginia.
Calling on Southern California coach Tim Floyd and quickly installing a triangle-and-2 defense, the Mountaineers routed No. 10 Marquette 79-64 on Sunday for Huggins’ 601st career victory.
“I was hoping that would get them out of rhythm,” Huggins said. “I have never done it in my career, so there is no way they could have known we were going to do it. I watched the USC-Memphis game and saw how USC really bothered a good Memphis team, so I called Tim Floyd. He helped us out.”
The Mountaineers surprised Marquette and coach Tom Crean, who seemed to be expecting Huggins’ trademark, physical man-to-man defense. The result was 14 turnovers and a number of easy baskets.
Alex Ruoff hit five 3-pointers and scored 19 points to lead the Mountaineers in their first victory over a top-10 team since beating then-No. 2 UCLA last Feb. 10.
Joe Alexander added 19 points and Da’Sean Butler hit three 3s and had 13 points for West Virginia, which cruised to a 10-1 start before dropping a pair of games to Oklahoma and Notre Dame. The losses seemed to give credence to Huggins’ claim that the hot start was merely “fool’s gold.”
Nothing looked foolish about West Virginia’s 13th straight home win, and sixth straight in Big East openers.
Ruoff, who predicted that West Virginia would win before the game, made timely 3s to continually hold off Marquette. He made one from the corner to cap a 6-0 push to start the second half, then made three in as many minutes as the Mountaineers (11-3, 1-1 Big East) built a 66-54 edge with 2:56 left in the game.
“You never want to start conference play 0-2,” Ruoff said. “Really, our level of play has been down (lately). We got back to that level of intensity.”
Lazar Hayward and Wesley Matthews scored 13 points each to lead Marquette (11-2, 1-1), which had won even in a row since a four-point loss to No. 9 Duke in late November.
But the Golden Eagles’ sensational backcourt of Jerel McNeal and Dominic James was held to a combined 20 points on just 8-of-20 shooting, and 2-of-8 from beyond the arc.
The Mountaineers’ zone defense created nine turnovers in the first nine minutes and allowed them to build a 21-11 lead with 9:48 left in the opening half. But just when West Virginia seemed poised to run away with it, a 12-0 spurt gave Marquette a 23-21 lead with 4:27 left in the half.
The Golden Eagles trailed 29-28 at the break, then used an 8-0 run in the first four minutes of the second half to lead 43-40 with 14:50 remaining. But West Virginia immediately answered with 11 of the next 13 points, including a key jumper by Alexander to take control with about 10 minutes left.
West Virginia extended the lead to 73-56 on Ruoff’s free throw with a minute remaining.
“We didn’t match their energy,” Crean said. “It took us three to four possessions to get used to the triangle and two (defense). We were lethargic and it carried through the whole game. When you play like that, you’re not going to be able to compete in the Big East. That’s just an inexcusable effort.”
The Mountaineers were 22-of-29 on foul shots, and made 13 straight over the final 1:51 to seal the win. Darris Nichols scored six of his 12 points from the line during that stretch.
The more physical Mountaineers also had a healthy rebounding edge (38-26), taking advantage of the three- and four-guard offense Marquette employs.
“The team was really into it,” Huggins said. “This is the best job they have done with the scouting report all year. In two days, the team digested it and knew who we wanted to guard and where we wanted to guard them.”