NEW YORK — Playing on its biggest stage of a still-young season, West Virginia’s top guns came up shooting blanks.
That may be putting it kindly after Esa Ahmad, Sagaba Konate, Beetle Bolden and Lamont West combined for a 6-of-35 shooting performance in Tuesday night’s 66-56 loss to Florida in the Jimmy V Classic.
“We have three or four guys who continually do things they’re not capable of doing and they have no shame in that,” Huggins said. “The NBA is full of guys who can do certain things and that’s what they do, they stay in their lane. We got guys who are all over the place and they’re not capable of doing it. When you try to tell them, then they pout. We got some guys who need to grow up.
“If they don’t do it, then I can’t have them around. I’ve got too many young guys who are too impressionable and then we’ll really have a mess. So if their attitudes don’t change, they won’t be with us.”
Huggins did not attribute any of his older trio of players to that quote, but it was clear he was not happy with their performance. The trio average 40 points per game, but were held 27 points shy of that mark by the Gators.
Huggins then went on to break down the performances of all three, none in a particularly overly positive fashion.
On sitting Ahmad down during a first half in which he was 0-for-4 from the foul line: “I didn’t think he was playing as hard as I needed him to play. To his credit, he came back. I thought he played really hard. It’s tough when you don’t make shots and he didn’t make any shots, but he kept playing. I thought he finished really strong from the standpoint of playing hard.”
Konate, who has battled a sore knee since the preseason, played only 18 minutes. In that time, the Mountaineers tried on several occasions to feed him the ball down low, but he made only 2-of-10 shots – all of his attempts were inside of 3-point range and several were in the paint.
He also committed five of the Mountaineers’ 21 turnovers, including a charging foul that occurred when he passed up a foul line jumper and dribbled into the teeth of Florida’s zone.
“He was the best rim protector in the country a year ago,” Huggins said. “He got to where he was a very effective low-post player. He handled ball screens pretty well. He’s gifted, but you can’t turn and try to stick the ball in between two guys.
“The guys who are really effective, they catch it, they feel the defense and they go score. Now, we’ve got to dribble it. He had a wide-open shot at the foul line. What did he do? He dribbled it and ran over a guy. Why?”
Florida coach Mike White credited his players for always being aware of Konate’s location and being ready for a double-team.
“We have guys on the post who will fight a little bit and we have guys on the perimeter who will go down and help,” White said.
Bolden, the Mountaineers’ top point guard, has been in and out of practice with various injuries, including a thumb injury on his dominant left hand and an elbow injury on the same arm. He finished 1-of-10 from the floor and misfired on both 3-point attempts against the Gators and played just 18 minutes.
“It’s not a case of what I need to do. It’s a case of what he needs to do,” Huggins said. “He needs to go back to being Beetle Bolden that everybody loved. That’s what he needs to do. The Beetle Bolden who was the first guy in the gym and the last to leave. The Beetle Bolden who hung on every word. He does that, he’ll be a good player again. If he doesn’t do that, he’s got a tough road to hoe.”
The Mountaineers’ road to success took a wrong turn against Florida and could be bumpy some more against rival Pitt (7-2), who is having a better-than-expected season under new coach Jeff Capel.
Huggins said it wasn’t too early to turn things around.
“Well, I think I can fix it,” he said. “I’ve fixed it before, and when I can’t fix it, I cut it out. It’s not fair to everybody else. That’s why they call it a team. We’ll fix it or we’ll cut it out.”