PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — West Virginia isn’t going to win any awards for running the smoothest offense in college basketball.
Playing defense and rebounding are another story and the Mountaineers rode those facets to a 65-54 win over Rutgers on Sunday.
John Flowers had 14 points and 10 rebounds, Kevin Jones added 12 points and 11 rebounds and West Virginia (18-10, 9-7 Big East) held Rutgers to one basket in the final 5:32 in posting a 65-54 victory.
“Rebounding and defense, those are the staples of coach (Bob) Huggins’ teams,” Jones said after the Mountaineers snapped a three-game road losing streak. “We got away from that some games and we definitely wanted to get back to that. It definitely helped us get over the top in today’s game.”
West Virginia dominated inside, outrebounding the Scarlet Knights 46-31 and outscoring them 18-6 on second-chance points.
The Mountaineers’ most impressive spurt came late in an 11-0 second-half run when they got three straight offensive rebounds and Casey Mitchell ended the fourth possession by nailing his second 3-pointer to give West Virginia a 50-42 lead with 6:46 to play.
“John Flowers had six offensive rebounds in the game and I think he had three in that stretch,” said Mitchell, who had all eight of his points in the run. “I think he passed it to me on all three of them and I finally hit the third shot.”
Rutgers (13-15, 4-12) didn’t go away quietly in losing its fourth in a row and eight of the last nine.
Mike Coburn, who had a season-high 20 points, hit a layup and assisted on another by Austin Johnson in a 10-3 spurt that got the Scarlet Knights to 53-52 on two free throws by Jonathan Mitchell with 2:50 to play.
However, that was as close as Rutgers would get.
West Virginia closed out the game with a 12-2 run that featured four free throws by Darryl Bryant, capping his 15-point game. Joe Mazzulla started the spurt with two free throws and Flowers followed with a big jumper. Mazzulla had three points in the late run and Flowers four.
“When we got ahead we wanted to step on their throats,” said forward Cam Thoroughman, who had four points and seven rebounds. “We wanted to close out the game then and there. We didn’t want to give them a chance to get back into it and let that crowd get back into it. So we stepped up the defense to another level and made sure we rebounded the misses.”
Dane Miller added 11 for the Scarlet Knights in their final home game.
“You are not going to win many Big East games shooting 33 percent and scoring 54 points,” Rutgers coach Mike Rice said.
Coming off an embarrassing loss to Louisville earlier in the week in a game it scored 37 points, Rice said his team played hard and took good shots.
“It’s just kind of the second game in a row where we didn’t knock down shots,” Rice said. “One for 13 shooting 3s is certainly not going to get it done.”
Rice said the difference in rebounding was that West Virginia had outstanding athletes, particularly Flowers and Jones.
The win kept West Virginia in contention for a first-round bye in the Big East tournament. The Mountaineers, who are tied for eighth place in the conference, face a tough road with No. 14 Connecticut and No. 16 Louisville being their last two opponents. The top four teams in the league get a double bye and seeds No. 5-8 get first-round byes.
“If we would have lost today it would have been a close call to get into the tournament,” Casey Mitchell said of the NCAAs. “Getting this one gives us a good chance to go to the NCAAs. We have two home games left, so this was a key game for our run.”
Huggins isn’t worried about getting an NCAA bid for a fourth straight year.
“We have lots of top 50 wins and our schedule is going to end up being 1 or 2 in the country,” Huggins said.