MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Sophomore power forward Derek Culver spent the entire first half of West Virginia’s Monday night game against Northern Colorado attached to the Mountaineers bench, never so much as removing his warmup shirt.
Had he spent the entire second half in the same spot, the Mountaineers would likely have an unsightly blotch on their resume. Culver’s 13 second-half points were crucial in holding off a late Bears rally for a 69-61 win.
Culver wasn’t made available to reporters after the game, and Bob Huggins wasn’t in a particularly descriptive mood when asked about the benching.
“I decided not to play him,” Huggins said. “We’re going to do right. We’re going to all be on the same page.”
Jermaine Haley was on the desired page for the entire game, recording a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 senior knew he would have an opportunity to heavily impact a game playing against a Northern Colorado lineup that primarily used four guards.
“If you rebound the ball at a high level, you’ll get easier shots like putbacks and stuff,” Haley said. “We have so many guys who can do different things that we can throw out different lineups. It’s definitely an advantage towards us.”
West Virginia (3-0) went up by as many as 17 points in the first half, but most of the game was spent with the teams ping-ponging slightly above or below a 10-point Mountaineer lead.
“We got very stagnant because we held the ball,” Huggins said. “It wasn’t one guy, but a lot of guys.”
The Bears (2-3) provided a wakeup with an abrupt 14-2 run to tie the game at 54 with 6:18 left to play.
“We just took our foot off the gas,” Haley said. “We have to play aggressive for 40 minutes.”
Culver’s presence brought an aggressive spirit back to the Mountaineers. After UNC tied the game, he and Haley countered with a 10-0 run of their own to put it back in West Virginia’s control. Culver scored six points and assisted a Haley bucket in that stretch, and Haley scored four while providing an assist on one of Culver’s baskets.
“He played pretty well in the second half,” Huggins said of Culver. “He was pretty strong with the ball.”
Culver and Haley were the only West Virginia players to finish the game in double figures. Northern Colorado’s Brodie Hume matched Haley’s game-high 18 points.
Oscar’s roller coaster continues
Oscar Tshiebwe, like almost all freshmen, remains a work in progress just three games into his career.
After lighting up Pitt for 20 points and 17 rebounds on Friday night, Tshiebwe came back to earth with four points and seven boards in 19 minutes against the Bears. The was also a very ill-advised and off-the-the mark alley-oop pass attempt that caromed off the backboard like a boomerang.
“He went too fast,” Huggins said. “As much as you say ‘slow down, slow down, slow down,’ he didn’t slow down.”
Tshiebwe had five points and five rebounds against Akron in his college debut.
“He’s got to put time in. He has to get experience,” Huggins said. “But we’re not going to give him experience at the cost of losing games. He doesn’t want that, either.”
McNeil loses nail
Guard Sean McNeil has one less nail. Where, precisely, remains unanswered.
In his postgame press conference, Huggins casually mentioned that McNeil had to leave the game because he “lost a nail.”
Huggins is pretty sure it was a toenail rather than a fingernail, though not 100 percent sure. And he definitely doesn’t know which foot was affected.
Regardless of which digit’s nail was lost, the whole thing sounds pretty painful. Huggins alluded to that fact, noting that it was a known form of torture in the Vietnam War.
“I tell ya, back in the day in Vietnam, they pulled those out,” Huggins said. “They took pliers and yanked those out, the Vietnamese did.”