- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 6, 2020

For much of Sunday’s game, West Virginia hadn’t been able to do what West Virginia tends to do best. But in a two-minute span late in the second half, the No. 11 Mountaineers finally broke through.

After a missed layup, guard Jordan McCabe scrambled for the rebound, dished to guard Taz Sherman and watched as his teammate sunk a 3-pointer. Then two possessions later, forward Derek Culver leaped between two Georgetown defenders, pulled in the rebound and finished a second-chance opportunity.

And to cap the decisive 9-0 run from West Virginia, Sherman scored at the rim, part of his team’s 14 second-chance points in the second half. Coach Patrick Ewing knew that was the Mountaineers’ strength entering the contest. For much of the game, they limited West Virginia’s dominance on the offensive glass.

But late in the 80-71 defeat, Georgetown’s mettle waned as fouls stacked up, and the Mountaineers pulled away as ranked teams do — with a late run to separate for good.

“A missed shot is their strength,” Ewing said Friday. “When they miss, they’re relentless on the glass.”

Ewing emphasized his team has only played three games this season, but the performances have been mixed. In a loss to Navy, Cam Davis and John Carter scored 48 points combined for the Midshipmen, overcoming a Georgetown squad that turned the ball over 13 times.

Turnovers surfaced again Sunday, with the Hoyas giving the ball away 15 times compared to West Virginia’s five. Eight of those giveaways came from Jalen Harris and Donald Carey — two graduate transfers.

“I’m not even sure what to do to fix it,” Ewing said postgame. “We talk about it, we watch film and talk about it, we drill on things. They just got to make better decisions.”

But considering the offseason disruptions due to the coronavirus pandemic, with the team meshing over Zoom calls rather than during summer workouts, Ewing isn’t terribly surprised, either. With a team full of new faces, there will be learning curves.

Those curves appear steep right now, though, even after a first half that went about as well as Georgetown could’ve hoped. The Hoyas found success from deep, knocking down six 3-pointers. Jahvon Blair and Jamorko Pickett — two returning seniors — each drained a pair of triples.

Much of West Virginia’s offense flows through Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe down low. But those two battled foul trouble in the first half, combining to play 13 minutes while scoring just three points. For a team that makes its living on the offensive glass — the Mountaineers averaged 15 second-chance points through their first four games — Georgetown (1-2) initially controlled the boards.

Without Culver and Tshiebwe for large stretches, West Virginia (4-1) managed three second-chance points in the first 20 minutes of action. Their quiet first half helped the Hoyas hold a two-point halftime edge.

And Blair, who finished with a team-high 19 points, opened the second half by splashing from distance twice before nailing a floater. Those scores, plus a transition dunk from Jalen Harris after Qudus Wahab blocked Culver, kept Georgetown in the lead.

There were signs West Virginia would soon surge, though. Miles McBride drilled a three, then set up Tshiebwe with a dunk on a fast break. McBride turned Georgetown’s 11th turnover into an alley-oop to Emmitt Matthews, the exclamation point on a 10-0 run that gave the Mountaineers their first lead since midway through the opening frame.

“They intensified their relentlessness,” Ewing said. “There has to be a five-man effort. All five have to go to the glass. And they were able to get a few easy baskets with their offensive rebounds.”

The turnovers — including four in a span lasting just over two minutes midway through the second half — were part of the Hoyas’ demise. West Virginia cashed in for 21 points off giveaways Sunday compared to just four from Georgetown.

When a reporter asked Ewing what facilitated the Mountaineer’s late 9-0 run — the final spurt that separated them from the Hoyas — the coach summed things up succinctly: “Turnovers, and then a lack of defensive intensity.”

It’s early in the season. But if those two maladies linger, Georgetown may find results like Sunday cropping up again and again.

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