“Deep depth”, ability to withstand mistakes carry WVU to conference success
A lengthy list of fouls, more turnovers than the opponents have, several players not contributing a thing and once making only 3-of-20 three-point field goal tries. Those ingredients seem to be a stodgy formula for losing basketball games.
Yet with a list of wrongs, West Virginia opened its belligerent conference schedule with two wins on the road.
After shelling Virginia Tech by 25 points in Blacksburg, the Mountaineers flew to the nation’s heartland during the Christmas break and survived two overtimes to beat Kansas State, 87-83, in Manhattan and outlast Texas Christian, 95-87, in Fort Worth.
Playing on the road at Christmas time is usually beneficial because at every school the students and their noise and disruptive tendencies are at home and not in the arenas.
Once-beaten West Virginia eased past Kansas State because it had three reserves play so well that Coach Bob Huggins could substitute when he wanted to and not because necessity forced him to.
Jaysean Paige played 35 minutes and scored a team-leading 25 points and took down a team-leading seven rebounds Tarik Phillip played 30 minutes and scored 14 points to splice together with his four rebounds. Elijah Macon had 24 minutes and scored nine points and claimed five rebounds. All three were reserves.
While most observers would say West Virginia relies on center Devin Williams to win any game, the 6-foot-9 center was all but mute in the Kansas State game. Williams was not in foul trouble against the Wildcats. He played 25 minutes and totaled seven points and had five rebounds.
Huggins preaches to anyone who will listen that rebounding wins games. West Virginia has outrebounded every team it has played in moving to its 13-1 overall record . . . and it outrebounded Kansas State, 43-35. There were 29 fouls whistled against the pressing Mountaineers and the team made only 20-of-31 free throws.
Esa Ahmad (a starter) did nothing. Nathan Adrian had no moments of even fleeting glory. And Jonathan Holton and Teyvon Myers had little effect on the game. But six other players did. And the grind-and-grind Mountaineers overcame themselves to win the Big 12 Conference opener while the students were still scattered to the Kansas winds.
Against TCU, there were a whopping 21 fouls called against the Mountaineers in the first half. And though it was the team employing a full court press, it was West Virginia that had already committed 14 turnovers.
A early 10-2 lead had allowed the Mountaineers to withstand their own coal carloads of mistakes and trail only 47-45 at the half.
The stands were practically empty. The groundswell of noise and pride often seen from student bodies was nowhere to be found.
Where was Williams? Sitting mostly with his burdensome offensive fouls severely limiting his minutes. He scored 12 points in 12 minutes but did convert 7-of-8 free throw tries.
Jaysean Paige was off the bench again, scoring 20 points in only 15 minutes. He had three assists. Tarik Phillip played 26 minutes off the bench, scoring 18 points and collecting three assists. Holton scored early with steals and finished his 24 minutes of action with 15 points, six rebounds and 3-of-3 from the foul line. Jevon Carter counted 13 points and five assists in 31 minutes. Even though he made only 3-of-8 free throws, Daxter Miles, Jr. scored 14 points in 26 minutes.
An uncommon 58 percent field goal percentage (30-of-52) helped carry the night. And so did a 9-for-17 (53 percent) showing on three-point attempts.
West Virginia had 35 rebounds and TCU had 30.
Huggins was calling on players at every turn because he had six of them finish with at least four fouls.
Again, Ahmad did nothing in 15 minutes and Adrian was equally futile with no points and four fouls.
The Horned Frogs — probably destined to finish last in the league standings — were called for 27 fouls, but had just 18 turnovers to West Virginia’s 22 floor errors.
Huggins could find enough contributors in both games in the heartland. He could search his roster and in each game there were just enough players doing just enough things to provide a win.
When reserves are the catalysts in road wins and you always have more rebounds, you have a team that can absorb mistakes, fouls, poor shooting and forgettable performances by more than one player and still win over the Christmas break in the relative quiet of a foreign arena.