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WVU Picks Up a Strong Opponent in North Texas Despite Short Notice



(Photo by Richard Carlson/Inertia)

When the team’s original home opener against Robert Morris for Wednesday was canceled, West Virginia worked feverishly to get another game in before taking on Richmond on Sunday. Wednesday afternoon, WVU was finally able to make a deal with North Texas, who said they were willing to come to Morgantown to play the Mountaineers.

“It was yesterday some time during practice we found out,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said Thursday. “They actually said ‘we’ll be there tomorrow’, which would’ve been today. They checked the flights and they couldn’t get a flight that worked.”

North Texas (1-2) defeated Mississippi Valley State in its season opener on Nov. 26, but has since lost two straight games to SEC opponents, Arkansas and Mississippi State. The Mean Green finished last season 20-11, 14-4 in Conference USA play. Huggins said UNT will be good competition for the Mountaineers.

“They’re athletic, they run, they were Conference USA Champions, they’ve won 20 or more games the last three years,” Huggins said. “They’ve got it going and there’s good teams in that league. For them to win the league, and win it handily, is a pretty big feat.”

WATCH: Bob Huggins Previews WVU’s Last-Minute Game Against North Texas

North Texas has three players averaging more than 11 points per game this season – Zachary Simmons (12.3), Mardrez McBride (11.3) and James Reese (11.3).  Simmons also leads the team in rebounding with 8.7 per game, while McBride and Reese both have made seven three-pointers so far. Javion Hamlet is also averaging 9.3 points and 6.7 assists per game.

Playing a quality opponent might be a double-edged sword, however. With a tough schedule to open the season, Huggins said he has not been able to play his younger players as much as he would like to.

“We went into this with the idea that we need to play those young guys and see what they got and try to get some of the nerves out,” Huggins said. “It’s hard, we still need to try to win, obviously.”

Director of basketball operations Josh Eilert is involved of WVU’s scheduling and said he takes several factors into consideration when looking for opponents, including NET rankings and how much it will cost WVU.

“I have an idea of what I can pay for market price,” Eilert said. “You don’t want to pay for a team to come in and ruin your NET. I try to target a certain level of teams and teams that we’ll get something out of. This is probably a little heavier team than we want to play and it certainly would’ve been better to play today and have a short notice for Richmond but you take what is available.”

WATCH: WVU Director of Basketball Operations Josh Eilert Explains Difficulties of Scheduling New Games

On Tuesday, WVU’s players talked about their expectations for playing in a nearly empty Coliseum.

“Even in high school, we had 2,000 fans at games,” point guard Miles ‘Deuce’ McBride said. “I’m always used to being in packed places so it’s been really different. You can’t control some things and I think it’s my job as one of the leaders on this team to figure out what can help everybody get going, including myself.”

WATCH: Bridges, McBride and McNeil Talk About Their Expectations for Home-Opener

Redshirt-sophomore Jalen Bridges was on the bench for every home game last season, but Wednesday he will officially make his home debut. He said the lack of screaming fans might take a bit of the edge off.

“It’ll be a different atmosphere,” Bridges said. “I’m used to sitting over there and hearing thousands upon thousands of screaming fans but now it’s going to be nowhere near that. I feel like it’s really not going to be that difficult because the fans bring a lot of unnecessary nerves…but now it’s just us.”

WVU and North Texas will tip-off at 3 p.m. on Friday from the WVU Coliseum and the game will be available on ESPN+.

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