Up and Down Mountaineers Rescued By Culver, Haley
MORGANTOWN — West Virginia’s Jekyll and Hyde basketball team squandered a 17-point lead and nearly lost a game it should have won easily, but finally found a way to pull out with a 69-61 over Northern Colorado before 9,740 mostly disinterested fans at the Coliseum on Monday evening.
In the end, ironically, it was their own Jekyll and Hyde persona — Derek Culver — who rescued them from what would have been an embarrassing loss to team that was an 18-point underdog.
You may recall a year ago that Culver was suspended for the first half of the season for behavior unbecoming a Mountaineer.
And then here on Monday night Culver found himself sitting on the bench through the entire first half of the game.
Huggins could have used match ups as an excuse since he wanted to go smaller against a team with four guards in the lineup and only one starter taller than 6-6, but that would have been a cover up, although he would not say of what.
“I decided not to play him,” Huggins answered when asked. “We’re going to do right. We’re going to do right and all be on the same page.”
So rather than have him down low with Oscar Tshiebwe, who suffered through what we can call kindly a learning experience night where he scored only four points with seven rebounds to go with four turnovers, one of them a doozy of a pass to no one or nowhere that hit high near the top of the backboard, he let Culver sit.
And it worked well, for a while, but that 17-point lead was down to 10 when the Bears hit a three at the buzzer to end the first half.
Early in the second half, when Huggins saw that Tshiebwe wasn’t going to get any better, he yanked him and brought Culver in.
“Oscar has got to get experience,” Huggins said, “but not at the expense of losing a game.”
To Culver’s credit, he did not sulk, coming in breathing fire and while he didn’t dominate, he scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds in 11 minutes, waking up both his teammates and his fans.
The one teammate that didn’t need to be awakened was Jermaine Haley, who put together the first double-double of his season and third of his career with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
“Derek was super aggressive,” Haley said. “We have plenty of guys who can do things like that.”
And what does that do for the team?
“Winning is the benefit,” answered Haley.
“We got lackadaisical,” said freshman guard Miles McBride.
At one point it got shaky enough for Huggins to call a time out, and let’s say he wasn’t passing out complements.
“He came after you,” McBride said. “We knew we had to make a run because this was a team that could shoot. They missed a lot of threes tonight (22 of them), and if they made them we would have lost.”
But, at the end, it was the inside play of Culver and Haley’s consistency that made the difference, allowing WVU to go into Friday’s game with Boston University at 3-0.