Marquette-West Virginia Preview

West Virginia has had a few close calls lately while remaining

one of the nation’s six unbeatens, none tighter than an overtime

road win in its first Big East game.

A visit from the team that handed the sixth-ranked Mountaineers

their worst loss last season could be another.

West Virginia looks for its first 11-0 start in 52 years Tuesday

night as Marquette heads into Morgantown for its conference

opener.

A 73-66 win over Texas A&M on Nov. 27 in the semifinals of

the 76 Classic was the only real test the Mountaineers (10-0, 1-0)

faced during their first seven games, but the last three have

featured considerably more drama. A last-second Da’Sean Butler

layup lifted West Virginia to a two-point win at Cleveland State on

Dec. 19, then Wellington Smith’s strong second half paved the way

to a 76-66 win over then-No. 15 Mississippi on Wednesday.

The Mountaineers appeared to be on their way to another

relatively comfortable win Saturday at Seton Hall, but barely

survived. West Virginia surrendered a 10-point lead with less than

a minute left before bouncing back to win 90-84 in overtime despite

Pirates guard Jeremy Hazell’s 41 points.

“It’s a huge concern,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said of

the blown lead. “Our two guys missed the front ends of 1-and-1. If

we make those, then it really doesn’t matter.”

Despite the troublesome finish, Huggins’ team escaped with some

positives. Kevin Jones had 19 points to match his average from his

past three games and added 14 rebounds, while Butler had his first

20-point game in nearly a month.

No player was more instrumental, though, than sophomore Devin

Ebanks. The 6-foot-9 swingman has spent the past two games running

the point, and while finishing with 14 points and 13 rebounds

against Ole Miss, he committed seven turnovers.

Ebanks didn’t give it away once against the Pirates, however,

finishing with a career-high 22 points, 17 rebounds and seven

assists while playing all 45 minutes.

“He’s starting to come around and show that he can become one of

the best players in the best conference in the history of college

basketball,” Huggins said. “I’m amazed he didn’t turn it

over.”

West Virginia hasn’t started 11-0 since opening with 14 straight

wins in 1957-58.

Ebanks and Butler combined for 24 points on 10 of 21 shooting

Jan. 10 against Marquette (9-3, 0-0), but didn’t get much help from

their teammates. The rest of the Mountaineers were 11 of 39 from

the field in a 75-53 loss in Milwaukee in which the Golden Eagles

outscored West Virginia 46-22 after halftime.

Butler had 13 points as the unranked Mountaineers knocked off

No. 10 Marquette 79-64 on Jan. 6, 2008, in the Golden Eagles’ last

visit to Morgantown.

Only Lazar Hayward remains from Marquette’s nucleus that also

included Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthew and Dominic James the past

two seasons, and the senior (18.7 points per game) has carried his

club offensively. He had 23 points Sunday in a 102-62 rout of

Presbyterian, leading six Golden Eagles in doubles figures as they

shot a season-high 60.9 percent.

“We did really good things more consecutively than we have over

the last month,” coach Buzz Williams said.

McNeal, Matthews and James (56 points) outscored West Virginia

by themselves in last season’s meeting, while Hayward was held to

seven points.

Butler, meanwhile, picked up five of the Mountaineers’ 22 fouls.

Marquette was whistled for 13.

“I would love to wax eloquently about (the officiating), but I

can’t,” Huggins said.

West Virginia has won 26 straight games when scoring at least 70

points.