WVU Creates Runs In Reverse
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When you think of scoring runs in basketball, the first thing that pops into mind is flurries of points. Visions of scoring barrages, fueled by several 3-pointers or a sequence of run-outs, fast breaks and highlight reel offensive plays in a short period of time dominate the thinking.
West Virginia, as suits its head coach, is doing it in reverse this year. Its runs, such as the 23-2 streak against Missouri that locked up an eventual 74-51 win, wasn’t the blitz of a striking cobra. Instead, it was the coiling embrace of an anaconda, stretching out over a period of six minutes and 28 seconds at the start of the second half. And in reality, you could add another 1:02 to that total, as Mizzou was also scoreless for that period at the outset of the final half. That’s two points in seven minutes and 30 seconds, over which the Mountaineers ran their narrow halftime lead of 24-23 to 47-25.
Building offense from defense is nothing new for WVU, of course. Its Press Virginia squads of the past turned live ball turnovers into quick transition buckets, often forcing timeouts from the opposition after several such quick strikes. For this year’s team, though, it’s almost as if the defense sneaks up on foes while the offense chips away at the scoreboard. Two- and four-point leads turn into double-digit advantages, but those “runs” are more like roadblocks, courtesy of West Virginia’s half-court defense, which time and again thwarts easy looks at the hoop.
“Let’s go out here and play West Virginia basketball. That’s what we came out to do. Get defensive stops,” Mountaineer ace Gabe Osabuohien said of the second half strangulation. “There was nothing to be said about that in the locker room [at halftime]. We knew we had to go out and do it.”
While WVU’s halfcourt defense is different from what those Press Virginia teams often ran, there are similar foundation points. Osbuohien and his teammates take lessons from those squads, watching video of how they produced. One of those keys is getting deflections, which don’t always produce steals but cause breaks in offensive rhythm. Tip a ball away, and by the time the other team re-gathers it, precious seconds have ticked off the shot clock, and opponents are often far from the hoop without time to reset or do anything other than run a high ball screen or take a low percentage shot.
“The deflections show how active we are on defense,” said Osabuohien, who defines the term. “We aim for 30-4o per game.”
That has been on of several factors that has helped the Mountaineers hold opponents to a 35.8% shooting mark from the field, good for third place nationally before Saturday’s game. WVU has been so good on the perimeter that after holding the Tigers to 26.9% shooting from 3-point range, its total allowed actually rose by one-tenth of a point from 25.6% to 25.7%.
Osabuohien also studies the techniques of Carter, who excelled at ‘”getting into the frame” of foes. That boils down to getting his hands into the space where an opponent holds and handles the ball, which gives him better chances for strips and tips. He’s also excellent at anticipating where passes are going to go, and gets his hands and arms into lanes to deflect them.
“Being up the line, being annoying to the offense. Being that guy,” Osabuohein said of his ability to create that defensive havoc. “We watch Jevon Carter and how he [and those teams] played hard all the time and locking in. Seeing how they played defense so hard. He was was one of the best defenders ever to play here, so we try to take those things and use it.”
The key here is that WVU is using it time and again. Many teams can lock in for a few plays or a couple of minutes defensively. WVU, while still not as consistent as Huggins would like, can maintain those stretches for extended period. He saw it coming in the preseason.
“When you have guys like Oscar (Tshiebwe) and Derek (Culver), and Derek has such great feet for a 6-foot-10 guy,” Huggins said of the pieces that have helped craft West Virginia’s 2019-2o defensive chops. “I knew what Deuce (McBride) could do. Jermaine (Haley) gives us a lot of length at a guard position. I thought we could be pretty good.”
Indeed they have, and a good bit of it has been fashioned these defense-fueled runs.