Matthews Helps WVU Rebound (And Score) In Win Over Austin Peay
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It just might be that the worst thing that happened to West Virginia’s men’s basketball team this past week, the mugging they suffered through against St. John’s in Madison Square Garden. It might turn into the best thing that happened to them all year.
Embarrassed and upset by the way they played in that 70-68 defeat, they vowed as they rode on the bus to the airport that things would be different the next time they took the floor.
“It feels amazing to get back on the winning side,” Emmitt Matthews said as he helped lead WVU back into the win column with a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double in an 84-53 victory over Austin Peay before 9,987 fans at the Coliseum. “We are going to stay over on that side for a long, long time.
“We were saying in the locker room after St. John’s we were disappointed in ourselves. We felt we let everybody down. We thought we messed up a good thing. We had an opportunity to be undefeated going into the conference and obviously that’s what we wanted to do. We felt we let our fans down and ourselves down and our coaches.
“When we got on the bus we talked about how we were going to practice hard the next two days and come out and play like we weren’t going to lose any more.”
And that’s what happened. They were a different team than they had been all season, running a motion offense, running the floor, making shots, passing rebounding. There was a tale in all the stats.
They shot 50.7% from the floor, not only the first time they surpassed 50% this year but the first time since last December against Youngstown State. They had 21 assists and, as crazy as it may sound, smothered the Governors’ passing game by allowing them only three assists.
The Mountaineers had 50 rebounds to just 28. They ran a motion offense for the first time this year which allowed them to show off their athletic skills, and the result was that not only Matthews but Oscar Tshiebwe had double-doubles, the big freshman with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Then there was Culver making a number of nifty passes out of the high post to get them going in that motion offense.
“That’s his one attribute that highly underrated,” Matthews said. “Sometimes I feel like he has eyes in the back of his head. He’s made some passes that I wasn’t even ready for.”
And how many times do you find a team’s assist leader is a back up power forward, yet that’s just what happened as Gabe Osabuohien led with five.
The result was a joy to watch after seeing WVU miss shot after shot all year, many of them dunks or from a foot away.
This time, however, they were doing spectacular things, none more than a basket that came early in the second half.
It started at the defensive end with Oscar Tshiebwe blocking a shot, the ball going to Haley who pushed it up court and found Matthews streaking down the left side. He lofted an alley-oop and Matthews skied to dunk it, increasing the Mountaineer lead to 47-25.
“A play like that feels good,” Matthews said. “The air up there, you can’t really breathe up there. But really, obviously Oscar is athletic. We know what he brings to the table. And Jermaine, he runs the floor and got the ball up there. I think that’s the first time all year we hit an alley-oop in transition.”
And then there were two threes in three attempts for Matthews, significant in that it gave him 14 for the year in nine games, matching his total for all of last season.
“Yesssss,” said Matthews. “A milestone. I don’t think I got my first three last year until conference play.”
So what happened? How did it come together?
“In the off-season, every day, every morning, Jordan [McCabe] would wake me up for Breakfast Club. Countless shots. I’d try to beat him in there but he’s an extreme early bird. We’d be in there shooting at 6 or 7 a.m. If you can make them then, you can make them in a game,” Matthews said.
What was nicest for Matthews it came after he had a really rough time in that game in New York, making three of nine shots and missing all four threes.
“You can’t have an on-fire game every game. That’s not how basketball goes. Even Steph Curry can’t make them all,” he said.