The West Virginia players were not feeling the warmth of Thanksgiving from coach Bob Huggins after the 23rd-ranked Mountaineers barely survived against a winless Marist team Thursday in an opening-round game of the AdvoCare Invitational in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
“Our effort (stunk),” Huggins said following the Mountaineers’ 84-78 win. “To play the way we play, you have to play with great effort.”
Jevon Carter had 20 points and Sagaba Konate added 14 points and 10 rebounds for West Virginia (4-1). The Mountaineers shot only 35.1 percent from the field, including 21.1 percent from 3-point range, against Marist (0-4).
West Virginia will play Central Florida in a semifinal game Friday. The Knights improved to 4-0 with a 68-59 victory over Nebraska in another first-round game.
UCF coach Johnny Dawkins singled out senior A.J. Davis as a primary reason for the Thursday win. Davis made a crucial 3-pointer with 2:50 left to stem a surge by Nebraska. He finished with eight points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and three steals.
“I was really proud of A.J,” Dawkins said. “There’s a lot on his shoulders. He’s like a point forward for us, so he plays multiple positions.
“He does whatever I need him to do. … He never blinks. He just says, ‘What do you need from me, Coach?’ and he goes out there and does it. He’s stepping up like a senior should when you need him to.”
Freshman point guard Ceasar DeJesus led the Knights with 15 points Thursday. Regular point guard B.J. Taylor is out at least three more weeks with an ankle injury.
“It did a lot for our confidence,” DeJesus told the Orlando Sentinel about the victory over the Cornhuskers. “We just had to stay disciplined and keep playing the game because Nebraska is a good team and they can make a run at any time.”
UCF received a scare in the first half when 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall went sprawling to the floor after coming down on DeJesus during a loose-ball scrum under the Nebraska basket. Fall was in noticeable pain and holding his knee.
After exiting to the locker room briefly, he returned to the game just before halftime, and he finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.
Huggins is hoping UCF does not show the kind of defense Marist played against his team. The Red Foxes employed a variety of zone defenses that continually dared the Mountaineers to shoot from the outside, and Huggins’ team could not muster an offensive flow.
“They did a great job, they really did,” Huggins said of the Red Foxes. “They changed defenses on us, but we rely so much on making threes that we never threw the ball inside.”
Also alarming to Huggins was the Mountaineers blowing a 15-point lead with 9:21 remaining by allowing Marist to go on a 17-2 run.
“I’ve got to figure out what we’re supposed to teach them in terms of guarding the basket because to me it seems to change weekly,” the coach said.