Eugene Lawrence saw something different Sunday, something he had not seen all year.
Especially in the first half, ninth-ranked West Virginia was doing things St. John’s has not yet encountered, even in two games against the team last year.
“It was like, they weren’t really missing,” said Lawrence after St. John’s 66-61 loss.
It sure seemed like it at points.
The Mountaineers, who went to the Elite Eight last year, shot 8-of-17 from three-point range in the first half and were an efficient 45 percent from the field. St. John’s stifling defense brought them back to earth in the second, but the first 20 minutes seemed like an offensive clinic from coach John Beilein’s team.
“They can all shoot threes,” St. John’s senior Phil Missere said. “You have to be on your toes.”
Lawrence echoed the same sentiments. West Virginia’s ability to knock down the three makes it extraordinarily tough on defenses.
“It’s almost like you can’t help,” Lawrence said, “because they’ll kick it out and hit a three.”
The Mountaineers make 35.9 percent of their threes as a team, compared to the Red Storm’s 27.5 percent clip.
They made 22 field goals on 18 assists and only turned the ball over 10 times to the Johnnies’ 21 times Sunday afternoon. The Mountaineers scored 15 points off them.
While St. John’s plays a physical, nose-to-the-grindstone style, West Virginia is all fundamentals, back-door cuts and finesse.
“If you try to play [them] pretty, you’re going to get beat,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said.
The perfect example of WVU’s style? Senior center Kevin Pittsnogle.
He’s 6-foot-11, 255 pounds, but only averages 6.3 rebounds per game. Instead, he shoots 43.3 percent from three and 86.2 percent from the foul line. He had 19 points and eight rebounds Sunday.
“He’s a tough guy to guard,” St. John’s junior Lamont Hamilton said.
And not the kind of player the Red Storm is used to containing.
Senior forward Ryan Williams sat out with a strained back muscle. Without junior center Aaron Spears (sitting out after being ejected for fighting Jan. 25 at Connecticut), St. John’s started Missere at power forward-Hamilton started at center for the first time since last season-The Red Storm’s 21 turnovers Sunday were the team’s second most this season (Jan. 4 at Seton Hall when it had 23). Hill and Lawrence combined for 11 of them in the WVU loss.