WVU Overcomes Injuries, Spotty Play To Down Rider
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It had been one of those nights when there were moments when West Virginia looked very good and played just as many minutes when they looked very bad before they beat Rider, 92-78, to go to 4-2 on the young season.
You could try to blame the spotty play on a lot of things. Sagaba Konate’s knee had acted up, and he was ruled out for the game and who knows how much longer. Head coach Bob Huggins certainly didn’t know, and had nothing additional to offer on that situation other than frustration.
Huggins also wanted to protect Beetle Bolden from himself. He used him for only 13 minutes, which was enough to get 12 points, and also four turnovers from some of the rust that had accumulated on his injured a) elbow, b) wrist, c) nose, and d) everywhere else on his body.
That meant Huggins had some funky lineups out on the court, players who didn’t know much about each other yet.
Then there was the fact that it wasn’t much of a crowd. They gave the attendance as 9,124, but they must have counted legs, not bodies.
Anyway, what had been a 19-point lead had been whittled down to 10 points with 3:19 left when freshman Jordan McCabe put a cherry on the whipped cream that was his coming-out party, leading the Mountaineers on a 3-on-1 fast break.
There was a player to his right, one to his left. He looked right, passed left and led Emmitt Matthews Jr. perfectly for a dunk that said “not tonight, boys” to the Rider team and you knew then it was over.
“I just found the right guy,” McCabe said after the game of the pass.
He did that a lot. Given not only some extensive play, but at critical moments, especially in the first half when WVU could not shake Rider, McCabe finished the evening with eight assists.
To give you an idea of what this young man who was Mr. Basketball in Wisconsin last year had done, neither Jevon Carter, Gary Browne nor Joe Mazzulla had ever had a freshman game with more than six assists.
You could tell McCabe has been learning.
But what, you wondered, had he learned.
“I just learned it is good to always try to make Huggs happy,” he said, laughing at the thought.
Often he doesn’t do that for there is a stylish aspect to his game, dribbling and passing.
“Huggs, he wants simple things,” McCabe said.
And he wants defense and that’s a phase of the game which McCabe is just beginning to learn.
“In high school,” he said, “they don’t ask their best player to guard people so I didn’t do it in high school.”
But what McCabe showed, even without making a field goal, is that he is going to put a flair in an offense that kind of lacks it and, when — or if — Konate is back out the protecting the rim, McCabe’s defensive shortcomings will hurt less.
In this one, Rider saw no Konate and decided despite the 7-foot presence of Logan Routt in his place to challenge the rim and they found ways to drive to the hoop. First half, they took 20 layups, but made only 10 of them.
“They drove the lane any time they wanted to,” Huggins said.
Second half, the stats were identical, not making enough of them to mount a serious challenge … but enough to ruffle Huggins’ feathers.
This was how the game went. WVU would take a lead, then let Rider come back. Over and over.
“It’s like what my Dad used to say,” Huggins said. “I remember him saying a lot when he was coaching that we just can’t stand prosperity. We were playing pretty well, then we come down, throw it to them, really unforced.
“Then everybody gets to do their thing rather than do the team thing.”
It didn’t even escape McCabe.
“He played well in the first half. They have no clue how much they hurt the team when they play out of team structure. Because we don’t have Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, we have regular college guys,” Huggins said.
“They try to do things that they can’t do and they look like fools. But they can’t figure that out so, tomorrow we’re going to watch film. I’ll show them how bad they really look look when they do those things and how much better we look when we do the right things.”
The main exception on this night was Routt, who had a solid performance in place of Konate with seven points, eight rebounds, one assist, a block and two steals.
The scoring came from Lamont West, with 20 points, including four 3-pointers, and Ahmad who had 16 points, seven rebounds, two assists, a block and three steals.