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West Virginia Wins Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament

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Juwan Staten scored 21 points to lead the Mountaineers over No. 17 UConn 78-68 to win the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship

The West Virginia Mountaineers handed their former Big East rival Connecticut Huskies their first loss of the season in the championship of the Puerto Rico Tip-off tournament, winning 78-68.

Defending national champion and 17th-ranked UConn had trouble holding on to the ball and shooting 3’s all night, while West Virginia was able to hit some clutch 3-pointers late in the game to improve the Mountaineers to 5-0 on the season.

West Virginia dominated throughout the first half. In addition to never trailing the Huskies at any point, the Mountaineers’ aggressive defensive caused turnover problems for Connecticut. The Huskies turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, six of which were committed by freshman wing Daniel Hamilton. UConn also had trouble shooting from behind the arc and from the line, going only 2-11 from 3-point range and hitting only 25 percent of their free throws.

West Virginia, on the other hand, protected the ball, only surrendering six turnovers. That, combined with shooting 53 percent from the field, helped them jump up to a quick 30-20 advantage. Behind the sharp shooting of guard Juwan Staten, who made 4-8 field goals to give him 11 points in the first half, and forward Jonathan Holton, who racked up 10 points and four rebounds, the Mountaineers went into halftime with a comfortable 47-32 lead.

But the defending champs did not go down quietly, and UConn made a big push at the start of the second half, going on a 12-3 run to bring the Huskies within six with 16:06 left in the contest. Senior guard Ryan Boatright picked up six of those points with a pair of layups and free throws.

The Huskies prevented the Mountaineers from separating again throughout most of the half, but always found themselves a couple of possessions behind. Staten struggled early in the second half, missing his first three shots and did not score until he sank a free throw with 10:16 remaining. Staten got hot again, picking up 8 of his team’s next 10 points to give West Virginia a 64-54 advantage with 6:15 left. The Mountaineers took a commanding lead after hitting a pair of 3-pointers in their next two possessions to take a 14 point lead with just under 5 minutes remaining.

UConn cut the deficit to eight with 1:01 remaining, but it was too little too late.

Staten ended the contest going 6-14 from the field and making 9-12 shots from the line for 21 points. The Huskies won the battle of the boards, out-rebounding West Virginia 41-34, including 17-11 offensively. But their inability to shoot from 3-point range continued to plague them late, ending the game going 3-17. They did not possess the ball much better in the second half either, committing eight turnovers in the second half for 19 total. West Virginia’s 37 steals in the tournament was a tournament record. Connecticut never led throughout.

West Virginia will be returning home on the 26th against Virginia Military Institute (2-2).

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