MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For three-plus seasons, he has harassed, pestered and rerouted ball-handlers, and now Jevon Carter stands two steals from the West Virginia career record.
That mark could fall Thursday night when No. 19 West Virginia (6-1) welcomes NJIT (4-2) to the WVU Coliseum.
The reigning NABC defensive player of the year, Carter averages 4.4 steals per game this season, bringing his career total of 249 within reach of the 251 steals by Greg Jones from 1980 to 1983.
"It just means I play hard on defense," Carter said.
The point guard’s attitude and aggressive defense set the standard when "Press Virginia" rallied from 16 points down in the second half to beat Missouri 83-79 at the AdvoCare Invitational championship Sunday night.
"A lot of guys don’t like playing defense, but he actually likes it," guard Daxter Miles said. "It’s all about the will."
Turning defense into transition baskets, Carter scored a career-high 29 points against Missouri. He’s averaging 18.1 points and 5.4 assists for a team on a six-game winning streak.
Miles (15.9 points) is doing this part by attacking the basket and benefiting from more free-throw attempts. He made 14 of 15 against Mizzou on his way to 28 points.
They are seniors shouldering the burden until West Virginia’s younger role players find their legs.
"JC and Dax obviously keyed the whole thing," coach Bob Huggins said. "But offensively we’re not very good from an execution standpoint."
Two sophomores figure to be crucial components this season, though both have faced shortcomings.
Forward Lamont West (10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds) needs to make more than 26 percent from 3-point range, and center Sagaba Konate (10.3 points, 6.3 rebounds) has battled foul trouble.
"We’ve got to keep Sags on the floor. He can’t rebound it from the bench," Huggins said.
While the Mountaineers’ full-court trapping pressure has generated 22.7 turnovers per game, third-most in the country, Huggins said he thought it showed signs of life late against Mizzou.
"We made rotations, and we made early rotations, and we did all the things you talk about all the time that we haven’t done," Huggins said.
NJIT, in its 10th season as a Division I program and picked to finish last in the eight-team Atlantic Sun Conference, suffered losses to Wagner (60-49) and Seton Hall (82-53).
The Highlanders own wins over Division III Kean as well as Lafayette (96-80), Drexel (65-53) and, most recently, LIU-Brooklyn (73-69), in which Abdul Lewis finished with 23 points and 18 rebounds.
"We’re a young team and we’re just trying to build momentum," said Lewis, a 6-foot-10 forward who averages 11 points and 11.3 boards. "West Virginia is going to be a nice test, but I’m up of the challenge."
Guard Diandre Wilson (11.5 points) and forward Anthony Tarke (10.5 points, 4.5 rebounds) must give Lewis help if NJIT has any upset hopes. West Virginia has won its three home games by an average of 41 points.
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