MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Revenge. That was the word used by West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. to describe their win over Rhode Island Sunday afternoon after losing to them last year.
The Mountaineers needed a big night from Derek Culver to escape another loss from Rhode Island after the Mountaineers let an 11-point halftime lead slip away.
Culver came off the bench to score a career-high 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead West Virginia to an 86-81 victory over Rhode Island on Sunday.
"I like coming off the bench," Culver said. "I feel more energized and ready to go." It certainly showed. Culver was the catalyst in the Mountaineers 20-6 run in the first half, scoring eight of those points, that gave them some breathing room before halftime.
Rhode Island head coach, David Cox, said Culver's game was unexpected. "I just didn't expect him to be that good and he was really, really good today." Cox said.
Jermaine Haley added 18 points, Emmitt Matthews Jr. scored 14 and Oscar Tshiebwe had 11 points and nine rebounds for the Mountaineers (7-0).
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins heard Culver liked coming off the bench. "Good. I'll sit him the next game." Huggins said. The move to bring him off the bench was something Huggins felt gave them the best chance to win.
"I thought Derek was really good." Huggins said. "I thought Derek came off the bench with more energy than anybody we had."
Fatts Russell scored 20 of his season-high 32 points in the second half for the Rams (5-3). Cyril Langevine added 14 points and Tyrese Martin scored 10.
"He just embodies Rhode Island basketball and the culture we try to establish here." Cox said.
Rhode Island shot 60% (18 of 30) from the floor after halftime and stormed back from an 11-point deficit to tie the game 60-60 on a layup by Jeff Dowtin with 9:26 left. But the Rams never retook the lead.
"We were just flat." Huggins said. After the winning the Cancun Challenge, the Mountaineers flew back home on Thursday. "We came back on Thursday night and everybody was tired."
Tshiebwe hit a jumper and a three-point play a minute apart and later made another free throw for a 73-66 lead with 5:09 remaining.
Rhode Island had the chance to tie the score, but a pass went out of bounds off Russell’s hands with four seconds left and West Virginia survived.
Jordan McCabe hit two free throws with 3.3 seconds left for the final margin.
"I'm disappointed. We came here to get the victory." Cox said.
Rhode Island: Russell, who was named Atlantic 10 co-player of the week last week after averaging 24 points, was leaned on again Sunday. He made 14 of 25 field goals, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers have won their first seven game for the first time in four years. You could see the Mountaineers creep into the top-25 this week. "I would be happy for them," Huggins said. "Because that's what they want."
After shooting 18 of 30 from the free throw line last game against Wichita State, the Mountaineers improved by shooting 24 of 31 from the line Sunday. That was 14 more points at the free throw line than what Rhode Island had; 10 of 15.
Gabe Osabuohien had his first start for the Mountaineers and scored three points, grabbed five rebounds and distributed four assists in 19 minutes.
Rhode Island: Heads home to host Providence on Friday night.
West Virginia: Takes on St. John's in Madison Square Garden on Saturday at noon.___
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