MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The dawn of Josh Eilert’s head coaching tenure began in the ugliest of fashions.
But beginnings only last for so long.
“I guess that wasn’t easy, was it?,” Eilert said postgame.
Like they did in the charity exhibition against George Mason, the West Virginia Mountaineers (1-0) rallied for a strong second half performance to complete a comeback win in the WVU Coliseum. This time, it was over MVC contender Missouri State (0-1) in a 67-59 victory.
The Mountaineers’ first-half offense was limited to the first six minutes of the game, and the production largely came in transition and at the free-throw line. A 10-0 run with an easy layup from Kobe Johnson, a three-pointer from Josiah Harris and a three-point play from Jesse Edwards gave WVU an early 15-4 lead.
Edwards’ converted “and-one” was WVU’s final successful field-goal attempt made in the half. The team’s final nine points in the first period came via free throws.
WVU shot 4-for-32 from the field (13%) in the first half, and missed its final 21 shots before the first buzzer. The Mountaineers trailed 30-24 at halftime.
“We had guys breaking out of our offense,” Eilert said. “…Sometimes [with] a little frustration and a little ball pressure, they think they’ve got to put their head down and drive it, when in reality, a lot of times the pass is the best option.”
The first-half funk that caused a WVU cold streak was treated in the locker room, and the Mountaineers came out of halftime red-hot. WVU drilled each of its first five shots of the second half to take a 36-33 lead just three minutes into the period.
WVU did not trail from that point on.
Both teams battled in a back-and-forth manner for the first few sequences of the half, but the Mountaineers finally separated themselves with a 13-5 run in which Ofri Naveh, Edwards and Seth Wilson each hit a three-pointer on back-to-back-to-back possessions. With the Bears’ in an offensive rut, reserve forward Pat Suemnick added two layups to extend WVU’s lead to 51-44.
With two-and-a-half minutes to play, MSU guard Chance Moore drilled a three to bring the Bears within three in a 57-54 game. WVU responded with a bucket from Edwards. The Bears cut it to one score again on the next possession, but Johnson added an insurance layup.
But Missouri State still would not surrender, and Moore hit another three to slim WVU’s advantage to 61-59.
With the lead on the line and momentum swiftly evaporating, Slazinski hit a layup, then made a strong defensive play on the other end before feeding a game-clinching dunk by Harris for a dagger and the 65-59 lead.
For good measure, Harris threw another one down off a haphazard MSU possession in the waning moments, and WVU won 67-59.
Slazinski led all WVU scorers with 18 points (8-of-9 free throws) on 4-of-10 shooting with seven rebounds. Edwards added another 13 points with 13 rebounds for his first Big 12 double-double, and Wilson recorded 11 points of his own.
WVU continues its nonconference schedule with a home game against Monmouth Friday at 7 p.m. at the Coliseum.