Smash-Mouth Mountaineers Smash The Horned Frogs
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Call it “smash mouth basketball.”
Just like a power-running football team, the Mountaineer basketball team just kept running the iso into the middle of the TCU defense, and ultimately flattened the Horned Frogs Tuesday night at the WVU Coliseum, 81-49.
West Virginia (14-2/3-1) was already playing from in front in the second half, leading by double digits (46-36) five minutes into the period when the home team went ground-and-pound.
Instead of Owen Schmitt leading the way for Steve Slaton, though, it was the Mountaineers’ Gabe Osabuohien playing the role of the fullback and constantly finding daylight for his tailbacks, who in this case were Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe.
By Osabuohien’s count, WVU ran the same play six or seven straight times. He would get the ball at the high post just above the foul line and turn to find either Tshiebwe or Culver posting up down low and sealing off their Horned Frog defends.
By the time TCU head coach Jamie Dixon adjusted and switched from a man-to-man defense to a zone, West Virginia’s lead was over 20 on its way much higher. Osabuohien had five assists (four in the second half), and Texas Christian’s only two big men, Kevin Samuel and Jaedon, each were in process of fouling out, leaving the Horned Frogs even more defensively-challenged inside.
“We were going to keep running it until they stopped it,” said Osabuohien of the high-low feed. “They didn’t stop it until they went to a zone.
“It’s really an easy play when you have D.C. and Oscar,” added the 6-foot-7 junior forward. “They have their guy pinned behind them, so it’s an easy pass in there. Once they get the ball, they are going to get fouled or score every time.”
A native of Toronto, Canada, Osabuohien is an oddity in the game of basketball today. He’s a player with limited scoring ability – with his three points on Tuesday, he’s averaging 1.6 points per game this season – but he’s vital in so many other ways. A transfer from Arkansas, he’s outstanding defensively – he has nearly as many steals (17) as points (21) this year – averages 4.1 rebounds per game and his average of 2.2 assists per game leads the entire team. And just as importantly, Osabuohien readily accepts his role, looking to pass first, second and third, and rarely concerns himself with shooting.
“Gabe is really good at getting us the ball,” noted Tshiebwe. “We have to make sure we are spread out when we run that (high-low) play, but when we are, it’s really hard to stop.
“They couldn’t stop us when they tried to defend us one-on-one. Sometimes they double teamed us, and I wasn’t necessarily good with that,” admitted the 6-foot-9, 258-pound freshman who had four turnovers and no assists Tuesday. “D.C. handles that better it than I do.”
Tshiebwe did score 11 points – nine of them in the second half – and pulled down six rebounds. Culver had his 14th career double-double, as he finished with 17 points and 11 rebounds to go with four assists and just one turnover.
“We’re all trying to get other people open,” said Culver. “We’re constantly looking for the next person and the next person and the next person. Eventually the next person becomes you, so if you stick to the system, everything will work out.”
West Virginia had 20 assists on its 30 made field goals against TCU. The Mountaineers’ size allowed them to outrebound Texas Christian 38-24, outscore the visitors from Fort Worth 36-10 in the paint and manage a 14-3 edge in second-chance points from their 13-9 offensive rebound advantage.
“We got in foul trouble, and it’s hard to play when our two big guys are in foul trouble,” said Dixon, whose Horned Frogs fell to 12-4 overall on the season and 3-1 in Big 12 play. “We’ve never been in that situation where both (big men) were in foul trouble immediately. (WVU is) good at creating that. That’s what they do. Then, the rebounds hurt us, obviously, (and so did) second shots, in every way. I don’t think there is any secret. They went inside, and we fouled them. If you foul more, you get into foul trouble, and you play less defense. It’s a pretty simple formula, so we have to play better without fouling, but we’ve never had the guys in that situation.”
As for the Mountaineers, Huggins wasn’t happy with their nine first half turnovers, many of which came on errant passes as they tried to feed the post. WVU had a 37-23 lead at halftime because perimeter players Sean McNeil (eight first half points, including a pair of three-pointers), Chase Harler (seven first half points) and Brandon Knapper (five first half points) all stepped up.
The second half, though, West Virginia cut down the turnovers with just five and played some old-school power football, blasting away again and again at the heart of TCU’s defensive line … er, interior defense.
“The first half, we didn’t really move our feet when we posted, and we made terrible angle passes,” explained Huggins. “The second half we were different. The post is a block out is what it is. You block the guy out and don’t let them get around you. The post guys did a much better job in the second half of doing that, and the others did a better job of feeding them the ball.
“The post guy is going to tell you where to throw the ball, because he’s going to have a hand up,” added WVU’s head coach, whose club has won seven of its last eight games. “Hitting the hand is the key. Gabe did a good job of hitting the target.” … much like a fullback hitting a linebacker on the iso block.