Konate, Harler Provide Offensive Spark As WVU Bests Long Beach State
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s offense stemmed from a couple different sources in the win over Long Beach State on Monday.
Where the Mountaineers had relied on the likes of Jevon Carter and Dax Miles over the initial three games, hot hands from Chase Harler, Sags Konate and Lamont West keyed the 91-62 blowout here in the non-bracketed game of the AdvoCare Invitational.
Harler and Konate had set career highs by the half, and finished with 14 and 20 points, respectively, while West’s five threes were central to a 22-point effort, one off his career best set versus Texas last season. It was an expected development for head coach Bob Huggins, who changed Harler’s mechanics and added to Konate’s offensive arsenal during the offseason.
For Harler, that meant a change in the location of his thumb, which was too far under the ball, and thus was pushing the shots off line. The correction triggered an increase in accuracy while also adding to his closer jump shooting prowess. That came to a head versus LBSU, when Harler hit for four three-pointers – the exact number he had all of last season. That came on just six attempts, a far higher percentage than he had as a freshman last season in making four-of-16 overall.
“I had my thumb under the ball too much and my ball was spinning awkwardly,” said Harler, who hit all four treys in the first half as WVU forged a 47-30 lead at the break. “Me and Huggs actually had a talk about it yesterday so I give him some credit for the shots tonight. I get my thumb on the side and it feels a lot better and rotates better and they go in. It’s more consistent. (The shooting) opens up a lot for everyone on the floor. I can spread it and they can’t help as much. The people who are going to drive the lanes have more openings for that.”
Indeed, Long Beach State stayed in a zone, practically handing Harler open looks from the wing. That began to pull defenders outside the arc, allowing operating room for the likes of Konate and some slashing drives from Carter and Teddy Allen.
“They were playing zone, and we worked on a lot of zone in practice so I know where the spots are and my teammates found me,” Harler said. “We play so fast on defense you forget to slow down on offense. I told myself today I was going to slow down. I had a lot of open shots in the first half and I slowed down and had my thumb on the side of the ball and they were falling. I am more comfortable now playing. I just have to slow down.”
Konate, meanwhile, sped the 49ers up, continually forcing Long Beach to rush shots to avoid them being blocked by the rim protector, or attacking on the offensive end with an array of jumpers, putbacks and hook shots. That Konate had four blocks wasn’t a surprise. That he sank a 19-footer just inside the arc was, if one hadn’t been inside the practice facility watching Konate work.
Where last season the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder was merely a shrewd defender with a penchant for dunks, Konate now has a solid midrange jumper and a baby hook shot that’s nearly impossible to block. The sophomore hit three of those on the low block during the victory, and added his usual handful of buckets on putbacks off offensive boards.
“It’s step-by-step,” Konate said of the developmental process. “I just have to keep focusing on what I am doing right and keep improving. I have developed some. I didn’t have a choice to really shoot it last year. As a freshman I was kind of a role player, getting in there and making big plays. That’s what I am able to do.”
Konate also paralyzed the LBSU offense in stretches with his usual defensive prowess in a game where it seemed like he had twice as many blocks as the listed four.
“They know I am a shot blocker and coach will tell me they know I am a shot blocker, so I am waiting for them,” said Konate, who acknowledged he’s not comfortable taking threes yet despite Huggins saying in the preseason he expected it at some point. “They are going to pump fake two or three times, four times, maybe hold it for three seconds. I just wait for them to block the shot.”
The most impressive stretch came early in the second half, when Konate hit a hook from the baseline after backing a defender down, then rejected a shot at the other end. It was a sign of things to come for the Mountaineers, who outscored Long Beach State 44-32 in the latter period to reach 90 points in a third consecutive game. The trio of wins come on the heels of a poor performance against Texas A&M in the opener, and provide a shot of confidence heading into the bracketed portion of the AdvoCare Invitation starting Thanksgiving Day in Orlando.
“It’s good momentum,” Harler said. “We are on a three-game win streak. From the first game until now the chemistry is a lot better, especially on the defensive side and knowing where people are going to rotate and things like that. It’s shown. We weren’t really used to the press with each other. We have a whole bunch of new guys and we had to figure things out. It took awhile but we are progressing now.”