Two Possessions Highlight WVU Hoops Woes
It was a sequence of just 21 seconds. That short span, however, defined not only West Virginia’s 83-70 loss to Rhode Island on Sunday, but also served as a marker for many of the Mountaineers’ problems in its desultory 6-4 start to the season.
WVU, in battling back from a first half deficit, had finally gotten over the hump to take a 55-52 lead over the Rams with 14:58 to play in the game. Rhode Island’s Fatts Russell responded with a free throw to cut the deficit to two, but Mountaineer guard Jermaine Haley rebounded his second attempt, putting the Mountaineers into position to take their largest lead of the game. Instead, an all-too-familiar scenario played out.
Haley got the ball up the floor quickly, and passed to Lamont West on the left wing. West, just seven seconds into the possession, launched an ill-advised 3-pointer that left little chance for an offensive rebound, and which also did nothing to stress the Ram defense. The shot was rebounded by Russell, who pushed the ball upcourt and started a possession that was the antithesis of the Mountaineers’. URI swung the ball around the West Virginia defense with three quick passes, with the ball ending up back in Russell’s hands. West Virginia’s defense had been broken down a bit at this point, and was further compressed when Russell penetrated off the left wing, drawing four defenders inside the lane and key. He then found teammate Christion Thompson on the opposite wing, who stepped into a wide open three that connected, putting the Rams back up by one.
This was by no means a dagger, as plenty of time remained for the Mountaineers to rally again. However, the sequence served as a perfect illustrator of the difference between the two teams at this point in the season. Rhode Island, which has struggled mightily to shoot the ball, hasn’t given up on the best methods in which to create good shots. Even when those opportunities weren’t falling (and they didn’t for most of the first half, in which the Rams missed their first five 3-point attempts and were 2-8 in the first 17:45 of the game), they didn’t depart from their game plan. They kept passing the ball and finding the open man, and eventually got two to fall in the closing two minutes of the first half.
By contrast, West Virginia continued to commit self-inflicted wounds such as this, many of which don’t show up on the stat sheet as egregious errors. This was just one of WVU’s 20 misses from long range, but it was an important one. Had WVU worked the ball, as it does on infrequent occasions, it might have gotten a shot with offensive rebounders in place, or added to its impressive total of 37 free throw attempts. It was from there that the Mountaineers had their best chance to win the game, but possessions such as this one (and there were many others) cost it any such shot.
This isn’t to single out West — he just happened to be the player involved on this particular enlightening sequence. Bad decisions and poor fundamentals have been a plague that has infected most of the WVU roster over the course of the season.
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Perhaps even more disturbing was West Virginia’s play in the last eight minutes of the game. After the Mountaineers cut URI’s lead back to a single point at 63-62, the Rams when on a fast break and dunk fest, marked by repeated WVU failures to get back on defense after missed shots, and next to no rotations on those possessions that didn’t end with open court lay-ups or jams. Rhode Island’s remaining scores read as follows: dunk, dunk, jumper, lay-up, lay-up, lay-up, free throws (off a lay-up attempt), dunk, lay-up. The last put the Rams up by 14, and more importantly highlighted a shockingly poor display of hustle and effort from a group of Mountaineers that looked as if they just wanted to get it all over with and exit the building.
Granted, West Virginia was playing without its best defender. But URI was similarly hobbled, as its best player, Cyril Langevine, was limited to only five minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. (He returned to play all 20 second half minutes.) And no matter who is or isn’t playing, those on the court should be expected to show effort. That was noticeably absent as the Rams made their late push to run WVU out of the building, and into a precarious situation in terms of making a push to play in the postseason.
Head coach Bob Huggins appeared to indict the entire team in that regard.
“We don’t screen and we just don’t do anything hard,” he said after another disappointing outing from his team. “We go through the motions. We don’t make hard cuts to the basket. We don’t curl hard. Everything is really soft.”
WVU, now 6-4 on the season, is rapidly running out of time to harden its edge.