Harris’ leads WVU past Jacksonville St. in 74-72 win
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. (AP) — Wesley Harris scored a career-high 20 points and had eight rebounds to lead West Virginia over Jacksonville State 74-72 on Saturday.
Despite a sloppy shooting performance in the first half (13 of 34), the Mountaineers (7-4) got out to as much as a nine-point lead over the Gamecocks. However, Jacksonville State (7-5) reduced its deficit and even took the lead with under five minutes to go.
With the Mountaineers holding the game’s final margin, JSU’s Jason Burnell missed a 3-point attempt with eight seconds left, and WVU’s Chase Harler grabbed the rebound. After getting fouled, Harler missed his first free throw, Burnell grabbed the rebound but overthrew a pass to a teammate as time expired.
“This sends us home on a good note,” Harris said. “It sends us home on Christmas break with something good to think about and come back to get better and get ready for conference.”
Despite the win, WVU head coach Bob Huggins was not happy with his team’s performance.
“I’m just tired of it. I’m just tired of having to fight with guys to play the game that they say they love,” Huggins said. “It’s a great game because you can’t cheat it. If you don’t practice the ball doesn’t go in. If you don’t get in shape you can’t run up and down the floor. If you don’t slide your feet you can’t play defense. You can’t cheat it. Guys who try to cheat it the results aren’t very good.”
Lamont West scored 18 points for the Mountaineers. Brandon Knapper added 12 points.
WVU defensive star Sagaba Konate missed the game due to a knee injury. Mountaineer leading scorer Esa Ahmad only saw four minutes and did not play in the second half.
“I think it’s the cumulative effect,” Huggins said of Ahmad. “It wasn’t so much just tonight, it’s the cumulative effect. It’s a culmination of a lot of things. You can’t turn it over five times a game. You can’t shoot 19 percent from 3 and keep shooting 3s. You should be the first one in the gym not the last.”
Marlon Hunter led the Gamecocks with a career-high 26 points and had seven rebounds. Christian Cunningham added 13 points.
“That’s who he (Hunter) is,” Jacksonville State head coach Ray Harper said. “He’s one of those guys. He’s the Energizer bunny. He plays hard, he’s a competitor. I thought Christian Cunningham was terrific. I thought he did everything. I thought he was out best player on the floor today.”
Jacksonville State outrebounded West Virginia 36-34.
Jacksonville State: Despite the loss to the WVU, the Gamecocks have still won seven of their last nine games and have plenty of momentum heading into Ohio Valley Conference play starting on Jan. 3 against Belmont in Nashville.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers have shot an average of 37 percent from the field over their last four games. That must improve as they get set to take on NCAA regular Lehigh and Texas Tech during New Years’ week.
FIRST TIME OUT
Freshman Derek Culver made his West Virginia debut on Saturday against Jacksonville State. He scored four points and had one rebound in ten minutes on the floor.
Culver missed the Mountaineers’ first ten games after being suspended in November due to violation of team rules.
During the WVU IMG pregame show, Bob Huggins announced that Mountaineer forward Sagaba Konate will miss two to four weeks due to a knee injury.
Konate missed West Virginia’s 83-70 loss to Rhode Island on Dec. 16. He is one of the main defensive players for WVU, having 22 blocks on the season including seven against Pitt on Dec. 8.
With the two-point loss to West Virginia, Jacksonville State continued their recent streak of playing Power 5 teams close on the road.
Under Harper, the Gamecocks nearly upset Mississippi State (a 59-56 loss) and Oregon State (a 70-69 loss) last season.
Jacksonville State will have a week off before hosting Reinhardt in their final non-conference game Saturday.
West Virginia will have an eight-day layoff before hosting Lehigh on Dec. 30.