West Leads WVU To Win Over St. Joseph’s
Good grief, Charlie Brown!
Bob Huggins finally found some answers to his puzzling 2018-19 basketball team, as he decided to bring Lamont West off the bench and the junior forward responded with his best game as a Mountaineer in leading West Virginia to a 97-90 victory over St. Joseph’s Sunday afternoon in the third-place game of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
Huggins’ coaching move was, in a way, like Lucy pulling the football out on Charlie Brown in the comics just as he’s about to kick it, for Charlie Brown is the Hawks’ top player and Huggins felt that he had a better match up guarding Brown with Wes Harris.
Brown did score 18, but Harris was in his head and the Hawk sophomore wound up fouling out early, which cut down St. Joe’s’ chance to make any kind of late rally.
“I didn’t want Brown to get going,” Huggins said, “and I thought Wes did a good job on him.”
But it turned into a double-edged sword because West, who had been struggling, came off the bench and scored 28 points in 27 minutes, burying 7 of 11 three-point shots.
“Lamont has put a lot of pressure on himself,” Huggins noted. “I felt he might be more comfortable coming off the bench. He also put a lot of time working on his shooting at the shoot around.”
In many ways, this was a game in which Huggins earned his salary for not only did he have to slow down Brown and get West going, but he was without Beetle Bolden, the one player who was thought to be able to bring stability to an offense that was turning the ball over at a rate of 20 times a game through the first three games.
Bolden took a charge earlier in the tournament and suffered a bruise from his wrist to his shoulder, forcing Huggins to rest him.
He started newcomer Jermaine Haley, who gave him a solid 15 minutes, but Huggins also was able to find a way to get Brandon Knapper going at the point. Knapper had a lackluster first half, although the redshirt freshman did record three assists while on the floor, but at halftime Huggins felt he needed an attitude adjustment.
“I gave him a stern talking to for not running the floor,” Huggins admitted, noting that West had made a big-time play blocking a Brown shot and was trying to get something going but Knapper was lagging behind.
“I told them, ‘You guys have to grow up fast. I can’t put you in the game if you don’t grow up because it’s not fair to the other guys,'” Huggins said.
In the second half, Knapper scored nine points, made his only 3-pointer, added two more assists while getting four rebounds.
Knapper wasn’t the only one who got some high-volume coaching from Huggins.
Veteran Esa Ahmad had been having turnover trouble all year and he got a little sloppy at a point in this one.
“I took Esa out early because I’m tired of him turning it over,” Huggins explained. “Give him credit. He didn’t go to the end of the bench and pout and when he went in he really played hard. “He could have said ‘Screw me I’m tired of getting yelled at.'”
Huggins also had the team make a concerted effort to get the ball inside to Sagaba Konate, something they hadn’t been doing. The result was Konate had 15 points, nine rebounds and a block and showed off a nifty passing ability with four assists.
Most pleasing to Huggins, though, was that he didn’t take a three-point shot, leaving that to West.
St. Joe was led by Lamarr Kimble, who became the second player in four games this season to score more than 30 points on the Mountaineers when he hit for 31.
The victory over St. Joe gave WVU third place in the Myrtle Beach Invitational. It was not the hardware West Virginia wanted to bring home but nonetheless something that will lift its spirits after some dismal play in the first three games.
WVU now gets some rest before returning to the Coliseum next Saturday to face Valparaiso in a 2 p.m. game that will be televised locally on AT&T Sportsnet.