December 19, 2014

West Virginia prides itself on taking advantage of opponents' mistakes forced by coach Bob Huggins' focus on constant high-pressure defense.

Its next foe should be well prepared for it.

The 22nd-ranked Mountaineers look to continue their strong start as they face N.C. State on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden as part of the Gotham Classic.

West Virginia (9-1) is off to its best start since winning its first 11 in 2009-10, when it reached the Final Four. The Mountaineers' success stems largely from an ability to create turnovers, ranking second in the nation with 23.0 per game.

They forced 24 on Sunday and held on to beat Marshall 69-66. The Wolfpack won't be surprised by West Virginia's defensive philosophy, though.

N.C. State (9-2) had little trouble with Tennessee's trapping defense Wednesday, shooting 51.1 percent and hitting a season-high 11 3-pointers on 26 attempts in an 83-72 victory.

"They shot the ball really well and handled Tennessee's pressure really well," Huggins told West Virginia's official website.

Senior Ralston Turner set career highs with 33 points and eight 3s.

"We talked a lot about handling their pressure," coach Mark Gottfried said. "We handled the ball without turning it over a lot. Ralston Turner was absolutely spectacular."

Turner is part of a vaunted three-guard starting lineup that also features fellow wing Trevor Lacey and point Anthony "Cat" Barber. Lacey, the Wolfpack's leading scorer at 17.2 points per game, scored 20 against Tennessee while Barber had a season-high eight assists with one turnover.

N.C. State ranks in the top 25 nationally in fewest turnovers per game at 10.8 and hasn't committed more than 15 on the season.

"They're very talented," Huggins said. "They make shots. Their two wings are two of the most talented wings we've played so far, and maybe all year. Both of them are great shot makers and they've got really good size. They're going to be a problem for us."

Huggins' other concern is the Mountaineers' struggles shooting the ball. They've shot 37.2 percent over the last three, a stretch that began with a 74-73 loss to LSU on Dec. 4.

West Virginia didn't take control of the Marshall game until late due to its poor shooting, and Huggins brushed off the notion that the struggles were a result of having time off due to final exams.

''We have some guys who have to put a bunch of time in to be consistent shooting the ball,'' Huggins said. ''They're not whatever you say, `pure' shooters. When they don't work hard at it, it don't go in.

''We've got a lot of the guys who generally are in (the gym) that haven't been in there. We can't blame it all on finals.''

The Wolfpack are holding opponents to 36.0 percent shooting, ranking fourth in the 15-team ACC. They are in the top 10 nationally in blocks per game with 6.8, and sophomore Beejay Anya is tied for third in the country with an average of 3.6.

The Mountaineers won the last meeting 71-66 in the NIT quarterfinals March 20, 2007.

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