MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia, who had their two worst finishes in two contests at the Cancun Challenge this season, were hoping to show better offensive efficiency in Wednesday’s game against North Carolina Central at the Coliseum.
In one way, the Mountaineers did just that. In another, it was a step backwards.
West Virginia shot more than 54 percent from the field and made 10 of 21 attempts from 3-point range in an 89-58 win over the Eagles. The Mountaineers, however, hit a season-high 23 times while recovering from their first loss under coach Dawn Plitzuweit.
“We showed tonight who we are when we improve in one area, that is not reflected in any other area,” said Plitzuweit. “We were really good at taking care of the basketball but not really good at making shots. Today we took shots, but we weren’t very good at taking care of the basketball. We need to keep building together and that will be important for us, but it’s not unexpected at this point. We focus on one area and then we have to get better in another area.”
The Mountaineers (5-1) shot 50 percent or better in all four quarters and got most of their offense from starting supervisors Madisen Smith and Jayla Hemingway and reserves Savannah Samuel and Danni Nichols in the opening frame.
Hemingway scored six points each on their field goal and free throw attempts, while Smith, Nichols and Samuel scored five each to give WVU a 25-16 lead.
“We wanted to be able to finish offense and defense, get to the boards and get good shots on offense,” Hemingway said. “It was really important to make sure everyone was moving off the ball and creating attacks without having the ball in their hands.”
After taking 7 out of 14 shots in the first quarter, the Plitzuweit team shot 50 percent again in the second quarter (8 out of 16).
Smith scored nine goals on 4-of-6 shooting during that period, while the Eagles (2-6) had 10 of their 26 turnovers in that 10-minute stretch and were 43-27 down at halftime.
“We’re hitting shots at a higher percentage than we’ve been in the last few games,” Smith said. “That’s because we get extra shots in the gym and let the offense come our way.”
NC Central reduced the deficit to 49-35 when Morgan Callahan scored just before midway through the third quarter. The Mountaineers responded by beating the Eagles 17-2 over the last 4:26 of the quarter, starting with Smith’s triple.
Kylee Blacksten’s bucket inside provided WVU with the next few points before Kyah Watson, Nichols, Samuel and Sarah Bates converted a 54-37 lead into a 29-point lead and slipped into fourth place.
“If you don’t shoot the ball, you see if we get good shots or bad shots,” said Plitzuweit. “We did a good job in the last game, taking care of the basketball and getting good shots, but we didn’t take them. We were a bit more relaxed tonight and our energy was good.”
Smith averaged a season-high 20 points and has hit double digits in all six games.
Hemingway followed with a season-high 15 in 6-of-9 shooting.
Samuel and Nichols also contributed season highlights of 12 and 10, respectively. Both players shot 4 of 5 and made two three-pointers.
“Savannah is a great player. She’s really long, steals and gets her hands on the ball,” Smith said. “She can knock out threesomes. She is an all-rounder and very important for us. I’m happy to see them play well.”
Hemingway and Kylee Blacksten each had six rebounds to put everyone in the lead, and Sarah Bates added a game-high five assists.
Tippy Robertson’s 12 points lead NC Central, who as a team shot 23 of 63 and never led.
Kira Lowery added 11 points for a second double-digit scorer in the loss.
WVU’s 23 turnovers will certainly be a talking point ahead of Saturday’s home game against Delaware State, as will NC Central, a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
“We’ve had quite a few in transition who made some hasty decisions,” Plitzuweit said. “We have to look at how we’re cleaning up those things, how we’re getting on two feet and getting our balance and taking care of the basketball in those scenarios.”