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Bench play, boards lift WVU over Cleveland State

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Kevin Jones and John Flowers each turned in double-doubles, and Casey Mitchell added 15 points, to pace a balanced Mountaineers scoring attack as WVU handed Cleveland State its first loss of the season, 74-63.

Buoyed by strong play off the bench and double-double games from John Flowers and Kevin Jones, West Virginia defeated Cleveland State 74-63 at the WVU Coliseum Saturday afternoon. WVU's bench, led by Cam Thoroughman and Joe Mazulla, chipped in 25 points, and the Mountaineers used a size advantage to out-rebound the Vikings 37-29.

Three WVU players reached double digits in points. Casey Mitchell and Jones each scored 15, and Flowers contributed 10 points. Both Jones and Flowers owned the glass, with Jones pulling in 10 rebounds and Flowers getting 11 boards.

After handing the mid-major Vikings (12-1) their first loss of the season, the Mountaineers (8-2) have now won 34 consecutive home games against non-conference opponents. Not that defending that winning streak versus non-Big East foes at the Coliseum was easy -- the game featured seven ties and nine lead changes before a 19-8 run put the Mountaineers comfortably ahead.

"They're a really good team," said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. "They're 20 in the RPI. Instead of playing people that you know you're going to win, playing people like them is going to help you down the road with the RPI and NCAA tournament selection."

Looking to avenge last season's heart-breaking 80-78 loss to a WVU team that eventually reached the Final Four, Cleveland State led 22-18 with 9:39 left in the first half. The Mountaineers recovered to take a 36-32 lead into half time, with Vikings star Norris Cole struggling to get going. The senior scored just 6 points on 3 of 11 shooting in the first half. But he recovered to finish 9 of 21 from the field with a team-leading 19 points. Cole also added eight assists and six rebounds.

With Cole finding his stroke, Aaron Pogue scoring a season-high 14 points and Trevon Harmon swishing three three-pointers, the Vikings kept the score close. Cleveland State went on an 8-0 run in the second half to creep within one point of the Mountaineers, as Cole fed Pogue for a layup with 12:06 left to make it 47-46. Cleveland State pulled even at 55 apiece following a Cole three-pointer with 8:30 remaining, but WVU then scored 10 unanswered points to pull ahead for good.

That surge was fueled by Mitchell, Jones and Thoroughman. Mitchell and Jones both drilled three-pointers following passes from Thoroughman, who finished the game with seven assists. Jones added three more on a layup and a free throw after a Josh McCoy foul. A Cole foul with 5:06 remaining brought Mitchell to the line, and he converted one of two to finish the 10-0 tear.

Fouls were a problem for the Vikings. Coach Gary Waters' physical brand of defense led to 22 personal fouls for Cleveland State, compared to 11 for WVU.

Thoroughman, who also contributed 9 points, six rebounds and two steals, and Mazzulla (eight points) were key players off the bench for WVU. Overall, the Mountaineers' bench had 25 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds.

PLAY OF THE GAME

With 13:37 left in the second half, Norris Cole zipped down the court on a fast break, broke to the left side of the basket and soared above several WVU defenders for a layup, shifting the ball from his right hand to his left in mid-air.

QUOTABLE

"John [Flowers] wants to win. I think John has taken it very personally. He's a senior now and he's been fortunate to play with some really good players and he knows that this is it. There is no tomorrow. He is without question the out most active guy and our most athletic guy." - Bob Huggins on the high-energy play of John Flowers, who finished the game with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks.

TEAM STATS

FG%
: WVU 47.4, CLEV 41.7

FT%: WVU 60.0, CLEV 75.0

3-PT: WVU 36.4, CLEV 36.8

RBS:  WVU 37, CLEV 29

LEADERS

Scoring:
WVU- Jones, Mitchell 15; CLEV- Cole 19

Rebounds: WVU-Flowers 11; CLEV- Pogue, Cole 6

Assists: WVU- Thoroughman 7; CLEV- Cole 8

Blocks: WVU- Flowers 3; CLEV- Woods 1

Steals: WVU- Mitchell, Thoroughman 2; CLEV- Harmon, 2

NEXT UP

West Virginia's next official game marks the beginning of Big East conference play, as the Mountaineers host St. John's on Wed., Dec. 29 at 7 p.m. However, WVU will look to stay sharp in an exhibition game at the Coliseum versus Walsh on Wed., Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. The Vikings return home to the Wolstein Center to take on South Florida on Wed., Dec. 22.

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