MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia men’s basketball returns to the WVU Coliseum to tip off a four-game homestand on Wednesday when the Mountaineers host Navy. The game is set for 7 p.m. ET and it will be shown on ESPNU.
The Mountaineers (6-2) are back in Morgantown for the first time in four games, a stretch which included a trip to Portland for the Phil Knight Legacy and a road clash at Xavier in Cincinnati. WVU took its first two losses of the season in that stint, including a road defeat to the Musketeers on Saturday. (WVU appears unharmed by the losses, landing at No. 11 in the NET rankings.)
On Wednesday, WVU will defend its undefeated mark at home against Navy (5-3) in the first meeting between the programs in 1972 — even before Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins began his playing career at WVU.
Navy, like the other service academies, presents a different type of challenge than WVU’s opponents in the Big 12, but it will be a solid opponent for the Mountaineers.
“Basketball is basketball, but I think pretty much the majority of the service teams, they execute really well,” Huggins said. “I think their execution’s really good, they just don’t have the size and such that the people, for instance, in our league have. But they’re skilled and very disciplined.”
The Midshipmen post a negative turnover margin this season and generate nearly 15 points per game from those takeaways. That could be a tough matchup for the Mountaineers, who have struggled to take care of the basketball.
“We just threw the ball around [against Xavier],” Huggins said. “We didn’t pass the ball, and so we spent a good deal of time [on that in practice] yesterday.”
Navy’s shooting could pose problems for West Virginia as well. The Midshipmen have made an efficient 41-percent mark from behind the three-point arc, led by 6-foot-6 senior Tyler Nelson, who paces the team with 15.1 points per game and a team-high 26 three-pointers.
West Virginia aims to continue its own strong start on offense. WVU averages 79.9 points per game, the 57th-best mark in the country through the early part of the season, after Huggins reloaded his roster with a high volume of shooters.
Against Xavier, though, WVU was led from the inside. Jimmy Bell Jr., a 6-foot-10 junior college product in WVU’s starting five, has quickly adjusted to the Division I game and posted his first double-figure game as a Mountaineer with a perfect 5-for-5 from the field.
Huggins expects that trend to continue for the senior forward.
“As people said, ‘Well, you know he’s never going to score for you? He’ll guard and he’ll rebound?'” Huggins said. “…Jimmy’s really worked hard at it and he made I thought some pretty difficult shots [against Xavier], in the first half of the game particularly. He’s just getting better and better, I think Jimmy’s going to continue to improve and I think he’ll continue to be one of our better players.”
The Mountaineers tip-off against the Midshipmen on Wednesday, the 81st anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU. WVU will honor servicemen and women at the contest as part of its Military Appreciation Night promotion. Veterans and active-duty military personnel can get tickets for as low as $5, while other fans can purchase seats for $10 or $15.