MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Known for his shot-blocking, Sagaba Konate enjoyed some shot-making for a change during a 20-point performance Monday night.
The sophomore center, a 4.3-points per game career scorer, made 8-of-10 shots by mixing low-post moves with midrange jumpers as No. 23 West Virginia beat Long Beach State 91-62.
Konate attributed the offensive confidence to the mentorship of assistant Erik Martin during practice followed by individual shooting sessions with a team manager after study hall.
“It’s step-by-step,” said Konate, whose scoring didn’t detract him from swatting four shots. “As a freshman last year I was only a role player, so this year I want to show I know what to do. Everybody has to step up.”
The Mountaineers (3-1) also found production from more conventional players, with Lamont West scoring 22 and point guard Jevon Carter adding 13 points, seven assists and three steals.
Gabe Levin was stellar in a losing effort for Long Beach State (2-2), finishing with 23 points and 11 rebounds.
After crushing Morgan State and American by an average margin of 48 points, West Virginia enjoyed another blowout, though coach Bob Huggins thought the 49ers provided a step up in competition.
“They’re a much better team,” Huggins said. “They’re going to be an NCAA tournament team. They’re going to win their league, and they’ll beat some teams that people don’t think they should beat.”
Konate and reserve guard Chase Harler recorded career scoring highs by halftime, combining for 26 points when West Virginia opened up a 47-30 cushion.
Harler finished with 14 points while hitting 4 of 6 from 3, contributing to the Mountaineers’ 27-2 edge in bench scoring.
“If Chase starts making shots he’s going to get a whole lot of time and be really, really good for us, because he plays so hard,” Huggins said. “He knows what he’s doing and he doesn’t make glaring mistakes — he just hasn’t shot the ball well.”
After the Wheeling Central graduate played made only four 3s on 13 attempts during a barely-there freshman season, coaches spotted a glitch with his shooting mechanics. Harler’s shooting thumb was slipping under the ball, creating a weird spin. With his thumb now on the side, his shots show a truer arc.
Harler also senses an opportunity to join the nightly rotation after playing in only 16 of 37 games last season.
“It weighs on you,” said the former high school state scoring leader. “I was always happy for my team but at the same time you’re sitting on the bench like, ‘Damn, this kind of sucks.’ You feel sorry for yourself and I went through that little stage.
“But Huggs always says ‘Don’t feel sorry for yourself, just get in the gym.’ So I really put in a lot of work this summer. Now I’m seeing the results.”
Bryan Alberts made six 3s in a 20-point outing for the 49ers, who lost for the second time in less than 48 hours after falling at Oregon State 89-81. The Big West Conference members committed 21 turnovers, shot 38 percent and were out-rebounded 48-36.
Notes, figures, etc.
— West Virginia won despite a four-point night from guard Daxter Miles, who came in averaging 18.3.
— Lamont West after making 5-of-10 from 3-point range and grabbing eight rebounds that were one off a career-best: “I give myself a C-plus tonight. I should’ve made all my free throws and I could’ve got a couple more rebounds.”
— Konate had not reached double figures in 24 consecutive games, a drought dating back to the 13 points he scored against TCU last Jan. 7.
— In the second half Harler jammed a finger when he was fouled trying a catch a pass. His mind immediately drifted to Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier: “I didn’t want to look down. I was worried after watching the football game, because that was gross. But it’s OK. I just stoved it.”