Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

Mountaineers overcome 2nd-half struggles in 66-60 win over Drexel

MORGANTOWN — It started with Josiah Harris finding himself all alone with nothing but a runway to the rim.

There was a lob dunk from Kobe Johnson to Jesse Edwards on a perfectly executed pick and roll, a 3-pointer from 6-foot-10 forward Akok Akok and a one-handed leaner from Johnson among traffic in the paint.

All of it came in the second half Saturday during West Virginia’s 66-60 victory against Drexel inside the Coliseum.

Which is newsworthy in the fact that WVU (4-5) hasn’t been a good basketball team after halftime this season.

Losses against Monmouth, SMU, Virginia and Pitt all told different stories about these Mountaineers, whether it was about frustration settling in, having opponents sticking one wild 3-pointer after another at them, missed opportunities or simply wearing down physically.

It did not happen against the Dragons (5-5).

“It was kind of a flow we got into,” was the difference WVU center Jesse Edwards saw. “There were some energy plays that got that going. Coach (Josh Eilert) has let us know that we haven’t been performing in the second half the way he wants us so far.”

It was Eilert’s final point he made to his players, as they got ready to take the court for the second half.

“We just kept positive energy,” WVU guard Seth Wilson said. “We kept playing hard for one another and tried to make the right basketball plays.”

Wilson was a major reason WVU was only trailing 33-31 at halftime. His nine points over the first 20 minutes broke him free from a three-game slump in which he totaled just 11 points over 79 minutes of action.

“I thought we had a really good stretch in the first half and we should have had a bigger cushion,” said Drexel head coach Zach Spiker, a Morgantown native and MHS graduate. “If you got a bigger cushion — that run that they make — we were kind of playing catch-up.”

And the Mountaineers were learning to play with a lead, which grew to as large as 62-54 with 4:14 remaining.

“In the two days leading up to the game, the big message for me to our guys is don’t lose the joy in this game,” Eilert said. “We all dreamed of being in a position to be where we are at, whether that is us as coaches or those guys as players. I said don’t second guess yourself. Play with complete confidence and when you get a good look at your shooters, let it fly.”

Which is what WVU was able to accomplish. Known for most of the season as the team that couldn’t shoot straight or as the team that simply wouldn’t shoot at all, the Mountaineers came out and connected on 53.3% (16 of 30) over the final 20 minutes.

A major boost came from Akok, who played just his second game of the season after missing the first seven games with a medical condition.

His 3-pointer with 14:48 left gave WVU a 46-42 lead, and he followed that up with a lay-up after Johnson hit him with a long transition pass. He played 12 minutes and added two assists and a blocked shot to go along with his five points.

Edwards scored 10 of his 16 points in the second half and Quinn Slazinski scored 14. Wilson had the nine points in the first half and finished with 11 points, his first time in double figures since the second game of the season.

“Seeing Seth get that early one and you could just tell it was a flip of a switch,” Eilert said. “I kept on trying to go back at him and get him more shots. I’m going to go to the hot hand whenever I can. It was refreshing to see 7 for 17. It’s a good change of pace there.”

Drexel was led by guard Justin Moore, who finished with 20 points and Amari Williams finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds.