Limiting Assists Key To WVU Win Over Oklahoma
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When facing great players, it’s rarely possible to totally shut them down. Talent tells, and the best players are routinely going to produce in their areas of special skills. The key, then is to figure out a way to limit some aspect of productivity, to cut into that productivity and force the opponent to find a different way.
That’s just what West Virginia did against Oklahoma’s Trae Young, who could become the first player in NCAA Division I history to lead the nation in both scoring and assists. While Young matched his scoring average with 29 points, he produced only five assists, which resulted in fewer than half of the points he usually accounts for in that play phase. Along the way, the Mountaineers also pushed him into eight turnovers, helping account for a 21-9 edge in points scored off miscues. That advantage was almost identical to the 13-point margin of victory.
Young certainly had his moments, but it took a lot of time with the ball, and a lot of tries, to produce them. He was only 3-12 from 3-point range, part of an 8-22 shooting night. Perhaps more importantly, fellow freshman Brady Manek, who has lived off 3-point chances from the passing of Young, got off just two shots in 23 minutes and did not score a point.
“We try to stop everybody,” WVU senior Jevon Carter said afterward. “[Young] is a good player, and he got his. But it’s a team game, and the better team won tonight. Everyone had a hand in it.”
The Mountaineers used a variety of tactics to keep young off-balance. Carter was the primary, but not the only, defender to square off with the outstanding freshman, as both Daxter Miles and Beetle Bolden took turns (and often double-teamed) Young in an effort to make him give up the ball. And on the back end loomed Sagaba Konate, who blocked five shots and limited the alley-oop and easy dishes for hoops that are also a big part of the Sooner attack. Young did find Kameron McGusty and Christian James for a couple of open perimeter shots, but they, like Young’s assist total, didn’t approach the numbers the Sooners are used to getting. Thus, a team that came in averaging nearly 96 points per game was limited to 76.
Another takeaway? This Mountaineer team is having fun right now. Even with all the challenges in the Big 12, even with rough patches like a second half stretch where the team “lost its mind” according to head coach Bob Huggins, WVU continued to play with confidence. After seeing an eight-point lead cut to two during a three-minute stretch, and scoring just five points in over a 5:30 span, West Virginia responded, and it wasn’t the veterans that did so. Konate hit a pair of jumpers, Allen scored on a coast-to-coast drive and Lamont West hit a jumper while Carter was on the bench, sending the home crowed into another frenzy. It’s the kind of atmosphere that brought Cartet to WVU, and his teammates are finding out now they can make big plays and reap the benefits of home enthusiasm too.
“It’s always fun going against a competitor,” Carter said of facing off against Young. This is the reason that I came to school, for games like this.”