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Huggins earns win No. 899 as WVU tops TCU

TCU guard Mike Miles (1) shoots while defended by West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Kathleen Batten)

Following Tuesday’s heartbreaking overtime loss, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins told his No. 6 Mountaineers not to let the dread of defeat linger.

His team appeared to have taken those words to heart.

On the back of forward Jalen Bridges, who earned his first career double-double, the Mountaineers came out ahead of the TCU Horned Frogs on Thursday night, 76-67.

Bridges finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds, both team highs. Twelve of those points came in the first half, allowing West Virginia (18-7) to construct an intimidating lead early on.

“He’s really worked at it,” Huggins said of Bridges.

“He’s a guy who gets in the gym, but he works on what you ask him to work on. And he’s getting better and better and better because of that. I think the other thing is he knows what he can do and what he can’t, so he really tries to accentuate the positive and stay away from the negative.”

From the opening tip off, the Mountaineers appeared in control. That notion was affirmed after guard Sean McNeil sank a 3-point basket eight minutes into the game, sending West Virginia’s lead to double-digits.

TCU (12-12) saw a slow start from guard R.J. Nembhard, who entered the day among the Big 12’s offensive leaders. He was held scoreless in the first half, allowing the Mountaineers to enter halftime in possession of a 32-18 lead.

Nembhard, who is the Horned Frogs’ leading scorer, began to somewhat turn things around in the second half, and TCU was able to trim West Virginia’s lead to single digits.

The Horned Frogs, despite shooting a much improved 17-for-32 (53.1%) from the field in the second half, remained stagnant offensively. While they had cut the WVU lead to make it somewhat more manageable, they could not move much further than that.

Nembhard struggled to be a part of it, finishing with only five points — a meager improvement.

“We just tried to make his life as miserable as possible,” Bridges said.

“We trapped every ball screen he came off of. We tried to deny him the ball when he wouldn’t give it up. I feel like we really did a good job at that; that was our game plan.”

In dire straits, TCU resorted to intentional fouls that ultimately made little impact. The Mountaineers held on for the victory, placing them in position to clinch the No. 2 position in the conference with a win against Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Forward Derek Culver, who finished with 17 points, needs only eight to reach 1,000 for his college career.

“That would be really big,” Culver said.

“I’m not even going to lie to you, I didn’t know I was that close to it. I really wasn’t paying attention, but that’s something I’m most definitely going to be looking forward to.”

Thursday’s win was the 899th in the career of Huggins, and he’ll be going for No. 900 against on Saturday. Only five Division I coaches have reached the milestone all-time.

“You can’t really just brush that off like that’s just something that small,” Culver said. “900 anything is a lot, especially when you’re talking about basketball games.”

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