That mantle belongs to TCU, which stumbled and sputtered its way to a 71-50 loss to a Mountaineer team that came into this meeting at the WVU Coliseum having lost its previous three games.
The Horned Frogs, now 9-10 overall, fell to 0-6 in Big 12 play. If they play every game like they did Wednesday night, they may not prove capable of beating anyone in the conference.
But that was of no significance to West Virginia, which -- for the sake of confidence, if nothing else -- badly needed to beat someone and needed to beat someone badly.
TCU provided the perfect foil on a cold, snowy night in Morgantown, shooting only 38.6 percent from the field (including 29.2 percent in the decisive first half), committing 17 turnovers and getting outrebounded by 12.
The Mountaineers (9-9, 2-3) have frustrated coach Bob Huggins with their lack of effort this season, and he wasn’t wholly satisfied with this performance either. But in a statistic that often characterized Huggins’ teams in his first five seasons at his alma mater, WVU grabbed a staggering 19 offensive rebounds and used them to build an unassailable 16-4 edge in second-chance points.
“I thought we played really, really hard,” Huggins said. “I thought we did, defensively, the things we’ve done for a long, long time in the first half.
“When you’re the 21st-worst shooting team in America, you’ve got to play hard, man.”
Player of the Game
5-of-6 FG shooting
West Virginia had a large lead at halftime, but unlike other games against lesser foes this season, was able to sustain (and, indeed, build) on that advantage as the game progressed. The team’s largest lead, 23 points, came with 1:01 remaining on a shot from a resurgent Deniz Kilicli.
The senior forward was a surprise starter against the Horned Frogs, as he had only scored in double figures once since a Dec. 5 win over Marshall. He topped that mark Wednesday, scoring 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting in 22 minutes of action.
“The positive? That’s as active as Deniz has been in a long, long time,” Huggins said. “He was active on the floor. He hard-hedged ball screens well. He did a lot of positive things, aside from missing layups. He did a lot of positive things defensively and rebounded the ball better.”
But it was freshman guard Eron Harris who continued his strong play of late, scoring a career-high 19 points to extend his string of double-figure games to three. Harris was an efficient 5-of-6 from the field and got to the free throw line for 10 attempts, making seven.
It was all too much for TCU, which lost for the sixth-straight game to open Big 12 play. All of the defeats have come by nine points or more, as first-year coach Trent Johnson attempts to build a program capable of competing in a power conference.
“The guys on this team are limited in their abilities to handle the ball and make plays, and it’s not their fault,” Johnson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “It’s just who they are as players.”
The two teams both showed why they have struggled to this point in the season in what was a sloppy first half, but TCU fared far worse.
The Horned Frogs shot only 29 percent from the field and committed 10 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, allowing WVU to jump out to a 35-22 lead by the break.
One stretch of five ugly TCU possessions included four turnovers and an airball. West Virginia did reasonably well in taking advantage of its opponents’ struggles from the floor, going on a 12-4 run to end the half with all the momentum.
For TCU, guard Kyan Anderson led the way with 19 points. He was the only player for the Horned Frogs to score at all for a span of more than 10 minutes of action, covering both the end of the first half and the opening stages of the second.
Connell Crossland and Adrick McKinney came off the bench to add 11 and 10 points, respectively. No TCU starter other than Anderson managed more than four points.