Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

UCF powers past WVU, keeping Mountaineers without a win on the road this season

MORGANTOWN — Reality jumped up and took a big bite out of West Virginia on Tuesday. UCF’s defense made sure of that.

The Knights pounded and hounded the Mountaineers on Tuesday, keeping WVU winless on the road this season along the way in a 72-59 victory inside Addition Financial Arena.

“It’s hard in this league, especially as good as they are defensively to get anything going,” WVU head coach Josh Eilert said on his radio postgame show. “We got disconnected in so many ways, offensively and defensively. We weren’t clicking on all cylinders.”

It all came just three days after the Mountaineers (7-12, 2-4 Big 12) looked like poetry in motion against Kansas. It may as well had been three years, because what worked against the Jayhawks, UCF simply chewed up and spit out.

Much of that credit goes to UCF senior center Ibrahima Diallo, as the 7-footer blocked three shots and altered maybe a dozen more. It wasn’t that the Mountaineers couldn’t get into the paint, they just had little chance to finish once they got it there.

Diallo added 12 rebounds and 14 points as UCF’s focal point and Jaylin Sellers added 18 points and three 3-pointers. Just how much different were the Mountaineers? They had 51 points at the half in that 91-85 upset against Kansas but didn’t reach that point against UCF (12-6, 3-3) until there was 4:10 remaining in the game.

By that point, the Knights were in cruise control.

“You look back at the UMass game and you look back at the Houston game, I worry so much about freedom of movement,” Eilert said. “We’re not the biggest, strongest dudes on the block and that’s the type of game they play. If you don’t have a lot of freedom of movement and you can’t go downhill when they’re hip-checking you and steering you, it’s hard game to create advantages.”

The Mountaineers simply had to work too hard just to get off a shot, and as UCF showed it was going to control the paint, WVU couldn’t find any answers from the outside. One 3-point attempt from WVU hit off the top of the backboard. UCF picked up 10 steals, some coming from simply picking the pocket of the WVU ballhandler.

The frustration boiled over in the second half, as WVU guard RaeQuan Battle picked up two technical fouls and was ejected from the game with 10:52 remaining. Like his teammates, Battle couldn’t find any rhythm and was held to just five points on 2 of 6 shooting in 19 minutes.

“He was frustrated and I get it. I get his frustrations,” Eilert said. “He handled it the wrong way and I think he knows it. He popped off a couple of times and it warranted what they gave him. It was a teaching moment. I gave him a hug and told him I loved him and said we have to fix this.”

Without him, WVU did get on a mini roll late in the game, as Josiah Harris scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half. He was the only WVU player who scored in double figures. The Mountaineers got as close 64-53 after Noah Farrakhan scored an and-one 3-point play in transition, but it ended up being the Mountaineers’ last hurrah.

WVU center Jesse Edwards dressed but did not play. Eilert said before the game that Edwards, who is recovering from surgery on his right wrist, could go in an emergency. UCF jumped out to an 8-0 lead and continued to run that up to a 21-point advantage in the second half, so there was no need for Edwards to get into the action.

“Hopefully we can insert Jesse into the lineup Saturday,” against Oklahoma State, Eilert said. “Hopefully he’s good to go.”

WVU was held to just 36.2% (21 of 58) shooting and the Knights got out and ran, too, scoring 24 fast-break points. Rebounding was never in question, as UCF dominated on the glass, 45-34.

Pat Suemnick, who was dominant with a career-high 20 points against Kansas, saw many of his close shots go in and out and roll off the rim. He was held scoreless on 0 for 6 shooting. He did have four rebounds before fouling out in the final seconds.

“The biggest thing that stands out to me is those fast-break points. It was 24 to six,” Eilert said. “That’s the difference in the game. They’re getting easy buckets. They’re going downhill and they’re going downhill at the pace that we’re trying to go downhill. I tell them all the time the advantage goes to the aggressor. By no means were we the aggressor.”