Nichols scores 20 as West Virginia wins eighth straight

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- West Virginia is 3-0 in the Big East for the second straight season. Now comes the tough part.

Darris Nichols scored a career-high 20 points and West Virginia (unranked ESPN/USA Today, No. 25 AP) beat St. John's 73-46 on Saturday for its eighth straight win.

West Virginia (13-1) is off to its best start since the 1981-82 team opened 24-1. The Mountaineers go on the road for six of their next eight games, including stops at No. 17 Notre Dame and No. 15 Marquette.

"It's a concern for every coach this time of year," West Virginia coach John Beilein said. "I'm not downgrading my team, but if we would have started out at Connecticut and at Villanova, we wouldn't be all la-la right now. Playing on the road is really hard, especially for a young group."

Playing in Morgantown has been a cakewalk for West Virginia, which went 6-0 on its current homestand including the wins over Connecticut and Villanova to start it.

West Virginia, picked to finish 12th in its 11th season in the conference, has already beaten three teams picked higher in the preseason poll. The Mountaineers have trailed for just 2:24 in 120 minutes of Big East play and are holding opponents to less than 50 points per game.

A year ago the Mountaineers won their first eight league games but skidded to a third-place finish.

"It's the way we have been playing the 1-3-1 zone and even our man [defense]," said forward Frank Young, who finished with 12 points. "Even though teams are bigger, we have been doing a good job of keeping them from getting second shots. That's what really hurt us last year."

West Virginia, last in the Big East in rebounding margin, outrebounded an opponent for just the fourth time this season and led by double digits for the final 14 minutes.

"We may play small, but we are a tough team," Young said. "We are not going to back down from anybody. We knew coming in they would be physical. We were prepared for that, and did a good job matching them on the boards and really boxing out. We competed for a full 40 minutes."

West Virginia, which led 30-23 at halftime, used a 12-0 run to go up 49-30 with 12 minutes left.

Nichols made a 3-pointer and a layup on consecutive possessions for a 61-38 lead with 5:12 remaining and St. John's never got closer than 21 points.

St. John's was held below 52 points for the third time in four games.

"A lot of our turnovers against their 1-3-1 led to transition points," St. John's coach Norm Roberts said. "When you do that, you are going to be in trouble. They got a lot of layups in the second half off backcuts or in transition. It was easy points. We can defend better than we did today."

Lamont Hamilton had 15 points for the Red Storm (10-5, 1-1), who lost their sixth straight to the Mountaineers. Daryll Hill, who had averaged nearly 25 points in his last three games against West Virginia, was held to five.

The Red Storm, coming off a 65-53 win over DePaul in their Big East opener, lost for only the second time in 10 games.