West Virginia Holds Off Auburn Despite Furious Comeback

Ken Cross

January 31, 2023 at 11:10 am.

Nationally ranked Auburn struggled in the first half as the Tigers fell, 80-77, at West Virginia in Saturday’s SEC/Big 12 challenge. However, several opportunities came for the Tigers in the second half as they pitched a near miss.

Having center/forward Johni Broome in foul trouble in the first half was undeniably a major problem as he didn’t score in his 9:12 on the floor in the opening 20 minutes.

Broome’s absence allowed the Mountaineers to implement an inside-outside attack as West Virginia scored 16 first-half points in the paint, while guard Erik Stevenson netted 18 in giving WVU a 45-29 halftime lead.

“We are getting better and better,” explained WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “We have guys in the portal, we have transfers, we have guys who have been there for a while, and you’re trying to put everybody together.”

Stevenson, who was close to coming to play at Auburn, finished with a career-high of 31 points as he made 10-of-17 field goals in netting seven threes.

Big man Jimmy Bell also provided offensive punch from the interior for WVU as he finished with 15 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes.

“When you have shoulders like that and a body that wide, all you gotta do is be able to look at the rim and you will score some points,” noted Huggins.

After Auburn missed potential game-tying free throws late in the game, Stevenson hit a pair of those three-pointers in clutch moments to allow the Mountaineers to retake a pair of four-point leads.

“I have seen Erik shoot too much,” analyzed Huggins. “We have talked about it. I think everybody has a tendency to have their shoulder back. You shoot online rather than getting it up. He got it up great today and got under it well.”

Broome was aggressive on both ends of the floor in the second half and he scored 15 points when he finished at 7-of-9 from the field in the second 20 minutes.

“He did a great job inside, five assists, one turnover,” summarized Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. “He is really good in there. We just have to keep getting him touches. He does not get to the foul line as much as he should have.”

When Broome returned to start the second half, Auburn cut its deficit almost with immediacy over the first four minutes.

Broome had a pair of baskets in the paint and Wendell Green, Jr., converted an and-one opportunity as the Tigers cut the Mountaineers’ lead to 50-41 with 15:51 remaining.

“I probably called too many ball screens in the first half,” Pearl explained. “We did not execute our ball screen offense when they blitzed us. We did not do a good job on those short rolls, so we went to our post-up game more in the second half.”

KD Johnson and Tre Donaldson were able to push Auburn closer with a pair of threes midway through the second half.

Johnson helped to carry Auburn in the second half as he scored 10 points on and made a layup off the fast break off of a steal which allowed Auburn to cut the game to 68-67 with 3:59 remaining.

As Johnson ended with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting, it was a huge opportunity for him to gain confidence in his offensive game after making only 5-of-17 shots with 17 points in the last three contests.

“I am pleased that KD played better,” noted Pearl. “He has been patient. Tried not to turn it over, tried not to do too much. He did get in the gym a little extra this week and work on some things. It was good to have that impact.”

The Tigers had two late plays on offense where they would get and-one opportunities to tie the game but missed the free throws.

“I am proud of the kids for playing hard in a tough environment,” said Pearl. “We trust each other and I thought the togetherness on the bench was the best we have had this year.”

Green missed a game-tying three at the buzzer while Williams missed a triple that could have tied the game with 21 seconds remaining.

“We played better defense and we didn’t turn the ball over as much and didn’t foul as much,” Pearl noted. “Giving those guys eight offensive rebounds is pretty good.”


Mountaineers Furnish Tough Paths For Big 12 Teams 

West Virginia has pushed back-to-back wins as the Mountaineers posted a 76-61 win at Texas Tech while holding off No. 15 Auburn, 80-77, on Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

After starting at 11-2 and then falling in their first five Big 12 contests, WVU has improved immeasurably in many areas. The Mountaineers fostered proof in winning three out of their last four games, starting with a convincing 74-65 win over then-No. 14 TCU before a near miss vs. No. 7 Texas in Morgantown.

Currently, WVU has played the fourth-toughest schedule in the nation while pushing forward to No. 24 in the NET and No. 23 in BPI.


Stevenson Furnishes Quality Scorer 

The 6-4, 205-pound, Stevenson has played in 146 career games after spending his first two seasons at Wichita State followed by one year at Washington and then a stint at South Carolina last season.

He averages 13.9 points per game as he leads four Mountaineers in double figures and he has averaged 14.4 points over his last five outings.

As the confident Mountaineers’ leading scorer, he averages 13.9 ppg while shooting 37.8 percent from the three-point line while leading West Virginia to average 77.1 ppg (61st/CBB).

“He’s put in time,” noted Huggins. “He’s really worked at his mechanics.”

Three other Mountaineers average in double figures with forward Tre Mitchell (12.2 ppg), guards Kedrian Johnson (10.2) and Joe Toussaint (10.5 ppg) joining Stevenson. With four starters in that range and with a player such as Emmitt Mathews (9.4 ppg) in the mix, it can cause matchup issues for any defense.


Fish Fry Sites Two Hall of Famers

Former Auburn player Charles Barkley looks on during the first half of a game between the Auburn Tigers and West Virginia Mountaineers at WVU Coliseum. (Photo: Ben Queen/USA TODAY Sports)

Hall of Famer Charles Barkley (2006) sat courtside on Saturday afternoon, but he had come to Morgantown for Huggins’ fish fry which was on Friday. Barkley, of course, played at Auburn in the mid-1980s, but he and Huggins have a tremendous friendship that has spanned over time.

“Nike used to do what was a vacation deal which was for the really good NBA players and the top-level college coaches, in their (Nike’s) mind, so you get to know people pretty well,” said Huggins. “People don’t realize what a great person he is and he is fantastic.”

Huggins discussed the kindness that Barkley had shown when the West Virginia coach asked him to attend.

“He said, ‘What do you need me to do?’” recalled Huggins. “I have known Charles a long time we have played a lot of golf together. Hung out. We have played cards together. Nike and I asked him if he would do that and he said, ‘Yeah sure.’”

A record 2,700 people turned out on Friday to the 11th edition of the Bob Huggins Fish Fry. It is done for benefitting the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Research Endowment Fun as well as Remembering the Miners.