West Virginia men’s basketball held off South Dakota State 79-71 for a season-opening victory in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on Wednesday.
Deuce McBride was the spark for the 15th-ranked Mountaineers, leading all scorers with 23 points. He was the only player to score double digits in the first half.
Despite the strong play from McBride, the season got off to a rocky start for the Mountaineers. Derek Culver scored the first bucket of the game, but the offense couldn’t get off the ground at all in the first half. Their 37 points were scored with a 38.0-percent shooting clip from the field.
“We’re a team that likes to throw it close [to the basket], at least part of the time, and they did a really good job of packing everything in and really taking away our post play and we’re fortunate enough to have [Taz Sherman and McBride] who can make shots for us, along with Sean [McNeil],” said WVU coach Bob Huggins.
Sherman gave a major boost to the Mountaineers in the second half, and finished with 14 points, including a pair of three-pointers.
Defensively, West Virginia struggled with countering South Dakota State’s ball movement. The Jackrabbits assisted on 16 of their 26 field goals, with Douglas Wilson’s 17 points leading the squad.
“[SDSU makes] shots, they really do a good job of handling the ball and creating shots for one another,” Huggins said. “I think they’re really good, extremely well-coached.”
McNeil earned his first career start at guard and added 16 points — but made just 37.5 percent of his shots. He did, however, bring a lot of value on the other end of the court.
“I think he’s come a long way defensively,” Huggins said. “He didn’t shoot it as well today as what he has been shooting it.”
Foul trouble did strike West Virginia’s frontcourt early. Oscar Tshiebwe was taken out just minutes into the contest after picking up a foul. After Derek Culver also faced a rising tally of fouls, Huggins was forced to go small for a large chunk of the second half.
This showed up on the stats sheet — West Virginia, typically a tough rebounding squad, edged South Dakota State in the rebounding column just 38-36.
“We couldn’t keep Derek on the floor and that hurts us,” Huggins said.
The Mountaineers move to 1-0 on the season and advance to the second round in the winners’ bracket, which tips off Thursday at 2:30 p.m. ET against the winner of VCU and Utah State.