Knapper’s Career-High Helps WVU Breakout
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–His name is Brandon Knapper, but for the five games from Dec. 30 to Jan. 21, it might as well have been Brandon Napper.
He seemed to be sleepwalking through games.
He was on the floor only 34 minutes in that time, did not score a point, went 0-for-8 from the field and had two assists and seven turnovers.
So how did he turn out to be West Virginia’s savior with 25 points as the Mountaineers ended their three-game losing streak with a 79-71 victory over Oklahoma before 11,611 fans and the legend, Jerry West, at the WVU Coliseum Saturday afternoon?
It wasn’t what you may think it was.
It begins, really, with his first shot and Knapper hit his first shot of the day, a three-pointer at 10:35 of the first half that drew the Mountaineers to within 17-16.
“I wouldn’t say it’s too important (to make that first shot), but when that first shot goes in or streaky shooters like me and Beetle (Bolden, WVU’s injured guard), you are just like, ‘No one is going to put a stop to this.’”
And Oklahoma didn’t, for over the course of the next 30 minutes Knapper made 7-of-10 field goals, 4-of-6 from three-point range, added 7-of-9 free throws, most of them down the stretch. He finished with almost double his previous career high in points, which had been 15 points against Baylor on Jan. 21, and it was just the fourth time in his career that the redshirt freshman from South Charleston (W.Va.) High School had topped double figures.
But if that first field goal was important, it was nothing compared to his last one.
Oklahoma had drawn to within two at 68-66 and with 1:59 left on the clock, the visitors called a 30-second time out. That was just long enough for Huggins to put in a play for Knapper that wound up with him wide open in the corner, taking a pass from Wesley Harris and bottoming it to give WVU breathing room with a five-point lead.
Why that play?
“Hugs drew up a play, sent me to the corner, and he knows the (OU) big isn’t going to help in the corner,” Knapper said. “I’ve been hitting shots all day. Wesley, he faked a pass then made the pass to me. I’d been hitting shots all day.”
Knapper’s breakout game couldn’t have come at a better time for WVU, which really has been in trouble, having lost seven of their previous eight games. Bolden was not dressed, his sprained ankle in a boot and he’s on hobbling around with the help of a cane. Sagaba Konate missed his 13th straight game with an injured knee, and it doesn’t look like he is going to return this year. All that left WVU with a 9-12 overall record and a 1-7 league mark prior to the Sooners’ visit to Morgantown.
Oklahoma has had struggles of its own. OU was 3-5 in league play and had lost three straight and four of five against WVU, so the opportunity was there … but the Mountaineers needed someone to step up and Knapper made the biggest step.
“I think we’ve all been waiting on it,” Huggins said of Knapper’s breakout performance. “His problem has been ball security. He’s thrown the ball everywhere. He did a good job under some tough circumstances. He got double-teamed at the end and did a good job stepping through the double-team like he is supposed to.”
Huggins also believes that possibly too much had been expected of Knapper at the start of the season.
“You throw a guy out there and say, ‘Go run the team.’ That’s a pretty good responsibility,” stated WVU’s veteran head coach. “Even though he was here last year, he played against Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles more than anything.”
Knapper was limited to just practice opportunities last season, as a knee injury kept him out of game action and forced him to take a medical redshirt. Still he impressed his teammates in practice.
“JC told me, he said, ‘Knap’s going to have great year.’ Then he got in a game this year and he threw it all over the place. I called J.C. and said, ‘Remind me never to hire you as an assistant coach.’”
Maybe he owes Carter a phone call now.
Knapper points were crucial but there were two double-doubles from Derek Culver with 13 points and 14 rebounds and Esa Ahmad with 12 points and 13 rebounds. It was the fourth career double-double for each.
Also WVU forward Wesley Harris played shut down defense on OU’s Christian James, who was had been the fourth leading scorer in the Big 12 heading into Saturday with an average of just 16.3 points per game. But Harris held the 6-foot-4 senior guard to just 10 points, limiting the lead Sooner to a 1-for-10 effort from the field and helping West Virginia escape with a badly needed victory.