BROOKLYN, N.Y. — West Virginia got beat at its own game.
Over the past couple of seasons, Bob Huggins-coached West Virginia has been predicated on several things: forcing turnovers, scoring in transition, offensive rebounding, and getting to the free throw line.
On Friday, Stephen F. Austin was simply better at nearly all of those facets. The Lumberjacks forced 22 turnovers — turning them into 29 points. They got to the free throw line 39 times, and while West Virginia still won the battle of the backboards, Stephen F. Austin held its own and didn’t let it become a game-changing factor.
It wasn’t a surprise to see Stephen F. Austin force turnovers or West Virginia commit fouls: The Lumberjacks rank No. 1 in defensive turnover percentage, and the Mountaineers are fourth in the country in personal fouls per game. But the margin in these categories was staggering, from the opening tip. There was a stretch in the first half where West Virginia turned it over on six straight possessions.
West Virginia turned up the heat in the second half, but Stephen F. Austin seemed to be gaining confidence every time it broke the Mountaineers’ pressure. Several passes looked as if they were destined for the ninth row, but the Lumberjacks continued to break the press — eventually breaking West Virginia’s spirit.
Thomas Walkup was also the best player on the court, and Brad Underwood made sure to get him the ball on every possession. He finished with 33 points on only 15 shot attempts — going 19-of-20 from the free throw line — and also had nine rebounds and four assists. West Virginia didn’t have an answer for Stephen F. Austin’s composure — and it certainly didn’t have an answer for Walkup.