MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Integral as Sagaba Konate has become to West Virginia this season, a momentary lapse in hustle Monday night resulted in his immediate exile to the end of the bench.
That’s where coach Bob Huggins kept his center for the final 17 minutes of the first half
Maciej Bender made Konate’s benching less painful.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore reserve from Poland delivered his most encouraging stretch of basketball since signing with the Mountaineers. Over an 11-minute segment in the first half, Bender rebounded five TCU misses and made three steals. He also made a Konate-esque above-the-rim denial on a driving attempt by Frogs forward Kouat Noi.
“That’s what we thought he could do when we recruited him,” Huggins said.
Bender finished the game with a career-high six rebounds, dunked off a feed from Beetle Bolden, and registered West Virginia’s second-highest plus/minus of the night. His 16 minutes were nearly twice his season average.
“It was real nice to see Maciej get in his groove,” Bolden said. “I’ve been wanting to see that Maciej for a long time. We’ve seen flashes in practice, but it’s good to see it in a game.”
Bender has yet to deliver on the potential he showed as a stretch four at Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Va., where he garnered offers from ACC, SEC, Big East and Pac-12 programs.
Monday’s performance represented his most aggressive and impactful appearance.
“I loved Maciej tonight,” said teammate Wes Harris. “He filled Sags’ position. We needed a big to come in and give us quality minutes, and Maciej did that.”
Added Daxter Miles: “Maciej played his butt off.”
Bolden goes back to sub
After starting the previous three games, Bolden came off the bench against TCU. The decision by Huggins paid off when the sophomore guard scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting, dished out two assists and made two steals without committing a turnover.
Huggins contended Bolden “was playing way too many minutes” in his starting role. Reinstating Daxter Miles gave WVU a stronger defensive lineup and allowed Bolden to provide what Huggins called “pop off the bench.”
In only 17 minutes, Bolden delivered the Mountaineers’ best plus/minus (plus 19).
“He was just as productive playing the minutes he did today than he was before,” Huggins said.
Miles up late
Between postgame interview questions, Daxter Miles yawned. Blame the 9 p.m. tipoff.
“I am so tired,” he said.
Upon learning it was 11:22 p.m., Miles added, “Man, I’ve got to go to bed!”
The late weeknight start drew 11,773 fans, the smallest crowd in seven Big 12 home games.