MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — As far as debuts go, this isn’t exactly what the West Virginia women’s basketball team had in mind.
An 88-53 exhibition victory against West Liberty on Tuesday, in front of 2,089 fans inside the WVU Coliseum had its moments, but 20 sometimes difficult-to-watch turnovers and a rash of bad defensive play in the first half left West Virginia coach Mike Carey with a sour attitude.
“Give credit to West Liberty,” Carey said. “I guess we didn’t believe they could shoot it. After they made about eight [field goals in the first quarter], you’d think we’d believe that, but evidently we didn’t. Too many turnovers and defensively we gave up too many easy things. Any questions?”
On this night, there were a few.
Like, how does a Division II team that finished 13-16 last season find itself tied with West Virginia, 30-30, with 5:02 remaining in the second quarter?
“We got off to a slow start and came out flat,” said WVU forward Naomi Davenport, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. “It took us a minute to play our style of basketball. We came out flat and underestimated them.”
Carey highlighted the play of freshmen Kari Niblack and Madisen Smith, who combined for 18 points, 12 rebounds and five assists off the bench, but did not like the way his team stood around too much on offense and defense.
“We’re not going to be a good team until we play better defense and stop turning the ball over,” he said.
The game marked the return of Tynice Martin after she missed all of last season with a fractured foot.
The junior guard quickly picked up where she left off, bouncing one in from the top of the key on her first shot and then connecting on her first 3-point attempt minutes later that gave the Mountaineers an early 17-12 lead.
Martin, who sat out most of the fourth quarter, finished with 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting and added three assists and three rebounds.
“I’m just happy to be back, honestly,” she said. “At this time last year, I was just devastated. It feels good to be relevant again.
“I’m concerned with how I can last throughout the whole game. It’s a process. I’m getting back to it.”
Still, Martin admits she needs time to heal and work out some kinks.
Her time on the bench is actually spent standing up behind the bench. She stands during timeouts, too.
“I’m afraid if I sit down, [the foot] might tighten up,” Martin said. “It’s just to stay loose. That being my first game back, I had some nervous energy to burn off, but it was mostly to keep it loose. I do it a lot in practice, too.”
As far as being the same player who was named the MVP of the 2017 Big 12 tournament, Martin isn’t quite there, yet.
“These early games, I know I have to be smart,” Martin said. “It’s a process to get back to that point. I do have confidence that I’ll get there, but I’m not where I want to be right now.”
Carey, too, has concerns with his star guard. He worries about the amount of time Martin spends on the sidelines, but also knows he can’t play her 40 minutes every game.
“I thought she got a little sore,” Carey said. “The problem with Tynice is if you let her straight play through the game, then it doesn’t tighten up.
“I tried to get her some rest and then it starts to tighten up on her and gets sore. I don’t know. We’ve got to figure out something for when she’s on the sideline.”
In her first game as a point guard, Kysre Gondrezick finished with 12 points and four assists and Theresa Ekhelar showed a nice game down low with 12 points and eight rebounds.
“I don’t think [Gondrezick] did terrible. She had four assists and two turnovers,” Carey said. “I think she’ll continue to get better. If Madisen continues to develop, we can move [Gondrezick] over to the wing, which is where she likes to play and where she’s comfortable.”
The Mountaineers will open the season, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, by hosting Coppin State.
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