Da'Sean Butler scored 27 points, a relentless defense forced 19 turnovers, and the Mountaineers knocked hard on the door of the conference's eight ranked teams Thursday night with a 75-58 win over No. 12 Georgetown.
No one doubts that the Mountaineers (14-4, 3-2) are solid, but coach Bob Huggins' squad was picked to finish ninth in a tough conference and has cracked the Top 25 themselves only once all season. Their only two losses in their last 10 games came against ranked Big East foes Connecticut and Marquette.
"We've heard that every day in practice," said Butler, who finished one point shy of his career high. "Coach Huggins, if he doesn't like the way we're practicing, he says: 'You guys are practicing like your ninth. You need to step it up.' Things like that. We're just going to use that as motivation for the rest of the season."
Told that his motivational ploy was working, Huggins said: "That's not a ploy. You look around this league; this league's so hard. We want to get in the NCAA tournament and make another run. You've got to win games to do that."
In a game in which nearly every basket was hard-earned -- and steals were sometimes canceled out by quick counter-steals -- Butler stood out by going 11-for-18 from the field. The Mountaineers shot 58 percent in the second half to pull away, while the No. 1 scoring defense in the Big East limited the Hoyas to 33 percent shooting after the break.
Darryl Bryant added 13 points, and Alex Ruoff had 10 points and nine assists for the Mountaineers, whose defense, outside shooting, hustle plays and rebounding compensated for the lack of a starter taller than 6-foot-9.
"Because we don't have a post guy, we live and die with jumpshots, so we hope they go in," Huggins said. "We're just so small. We have to be quick to the ball. We were quicker to the ball today."
Chris Wright scored 13 points, DaJuan Summers had 12 and Greg Monroe added 11 for the Hoyas (12-5, 3-3), who have lost two of their first four home conference games. Georgetown went 2-for-16 from 3-point range and again had trouble on the boards, allowing 16 second-chance points on West Virginia's 14 offensive rebounds.
Coach John Thompson III felt his players' offensive struggles caused them to lose their poise at the defensive end in the second half -- an uncharacteristic development for a usually levelheaded Hoyas team.
"We went through stretches where the ball just didn't go in, then we got frustrated. Things seemed to snowball after that," Thompson said. "Today was a blip. Today was not the norm. It hasn't been like that."
The Mountaineers were supposed to signal the start of the softer part of a Georgetown schedule that to date has been the toughest in the country. Five of the Hoyas' previous six opponents were Top 20 teams, but even an unranked school is a handful in the Big East this season.
Getting an open shot was hard work from the start. The Mountaineers missed eight of their first nine and trailed 9-2 before starting to turn the tide with Butler's three-point play. Georgetown had a five-minute dry spell near the end of the first half and trailed 31-26 at the break.
The Mountaineers built the lead to nine early in the second half, but Georgetown closed the gap to two before the decisive run: a 12-3 spurt -- capped by Butler's 3-pointer from the baseline -- that gave West Virginia the first double-digit lead of the game.
Shortly afterward, senior guard Ruoff drove the lane for an eye-popping dunk that amazed even his teammates. The Mountaineers had taken control.
"I like to be sneaky," Ruoff said. "When Butler dunks it, nobody cares. You don't even ask about it. I like to do it every once in a while and be spontaneous."