MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — When it came down to it, Emmitt Matthews Jr. said he doesn’t want to experience losing a game again for quite a while.
That feeling of dejection sitting in a New York locker room last week after a loss against St. John’s, Matthews said was taken to heart by the Mountaineers.
“It feels amazing,” Matthews said after recording his first double-double of the season with 16 points and 10 rebounds in West Virginia’s 84-53 win against Austin Peay on Thursday. “I’m glad we’re back (on the winning side). I want to stay over here for a long long time.”
An announced crowd of 9,987 inside the WVU Coliseum saw a different Matthews than the one that was held to just six points and three rebounds by the Red Storm.
This Matthews was as active as six-year old on a sugar rush, going after missed shots as if the Mountaineers were playing in the Final Four rather than the outmanned Governors (4-5).
“I didn’t want to lose,” he said. “We knew they were a good team coming in. We had a feeling that if we cut off their guy (leading scorer Terry Taylor) and remained aggressive on offense that we could take them out of their game and that’s what we did.”
Matthews’ best moment didn’t even count, that being a blocked shot on Antwuan Butler’s lay-up attempt that Matthews sent to the baseline seats in the final seconds of the first half.
It was waved off by a foul on Matthews — “That call came kind of late,” he said. — but that didn’t take away from his leaping ability or degree of difficulty on the play.
“He shot it really well during our first four or five games and then he didn’t shoot it as well,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “Guys like him are much better with movement. He can use his length. He can use his athleticism. He’s not the thickest, strongest guy, so he needs space to move.”
The Governors couldn’t keep Matthews from getting that space. They couldn’t fend off a wave of balanced scoring, either.
It came in waves, as Jermaine Haley and Matthews got things going early, before Sean McNeil showed some versatility with a 3-pointer and then banking in another shot on a move to the basket.
The dunks came in the second half. First from Oscar Tshiebwe on a breakout, followed by Logan Routt and Gabe Osabuohien that helped the Mountaineers (8-1) extend their lead to 57-36 with 11:34 left in what quickly became a blowout.
It was West Virginia’s largest margin of victory since beating Youngstown State by 34 on Dec. 1 of last year.
“I think we played hard for the whole game,” Matthews said. “We weren’t trying to slow down the pace just because we were up. We wanted to keep running up the score and play at our pace.”
Tshiebwe’s strong second half gave him his fifth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
“He and Derek (Culver) were both standing around too much,” Huggins said. “I think they both got frustrated and Oscar got really active in the second half. We’ve been telling Oscar that his strength is that he runs. He runs better than any guy his size probably in the country, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?”
The win helped the Mountaineers turn the page from that 70-68 loss to St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.
They did it by dominating on the glass with 50 rebounds and shot better than 50% (34 of 67) from the field for the first time this season.
“I know everyone was really disappointed that we lost that game,” said WVU guard Jermaine Haley, who added eight points. “Coming out and playing hard tonight, I think, shows that we’ve moved on and we’re ready to focus on what’s ahead.”
Taylor, who entered the game averaging 22.5 points for Austin Peay, scored 19, but also fouled out.
The Governors were held to just 1 of 14 from 3-point range and West Virginia also held a 46-26 advantage in points in the paint.
“We feel like we let everybody down after the St. John’s game,” Matthews said. “We feel like we messed up a good thing. We had an opportunity to go undefeated going into conference play.
“We talked on the bus how we were going to come out and practice hard after that. We came out and played like we just lost a game. Hopefully we do that every game.”