McCabe, Matthews Emerging As Leaders of New Mountaineers
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There’s no doubt that freshman Jordan McCabe is emerging as a leader of the rebuilt West Virginia basketball team. That wouldn’t have been predicted at the start of the year, even given the resume he brought to WVU, but with the departure of a trio of veterans who never really filled that role, the path was cleared for a younger Mountaineer to fill the bill.
It’s evident now, hearing him answer questions with the polish of a third- or fourth-year player, not to mention watching him interact with teammates on the court, that he is quickly becoming a performer that others will follow. Also helping in that regard is his improving play on the court, which, while still a bit of a rollercoaster ride, is trending upward.
Take, for example, Wednesday’s 72-71 win over Oklahoma. McCabe was just 4-of-15 from the field, but all of his makes were threes, with his last coming in answer to an OU triple that had put the Sooners up by five. More importantly, he had two assists and a steal against just one turnover, part of an effort that saw the Mountaineers five the ball away just nine times in the game.
Perhaps the most important item in his leadership ascendancy, though, was his response to a substitution in the first half. Pulled, along with a couple of teammates for a bad defensive stretch in which multiple Oklahoma straight line drives off screens were allowed, McCabe didn’t hang his head. He took some pointed verbal instructions from head coach Bob Huggins, and came back determined to atone.
“He’s a Hall of Fame coach for a reason,” said McCabe, who has not shown any tendency to hang his head, even when playing time was reduced earlier in the year. “He knows what makes all of us tick, and he knows what makes me go. You talk about lighting fires under people – Huggs does that for us.”
Matthews, in a more quiet manner, has led by doing. Even though he’s outweighed by most every other wing he faces, he has been hitting the boards relentlessly over the past few games. Angling his body and using his reach to get to the ball, he not only is grabbing his share off the glass (he had eight in 24 minutes against the Sooners), but he’s also keeping the ball alive with tips and slaps when he can’t get to it cleanly. Those plays helped WVU to its 11 rebound advantage on the offensive end, in turn contributing to 17 second-chance points.
Like McCabe, Matthews is an accomplished interview, and when he points out the growth he has undergone and the process that the team has gone through to improve, it rings true.