MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Much-hyped freshman Esa Ahmad keeps finding himself in West Virginia’s starting lineup, but his effectiveness and playing time are dwindling.
Held to four points or less in five straight games, the versatile 6-foot-8 forward hasn’t asserted himself offensively like coach Bob Huggins anticipated. Ahmad played a season-low 16 minutes in Thursday’s 86-68 win over Marshall, managing only one point and one rebound with two turnovers and no assists.
The Ohio player of the year and consensus top-100 recruit is averaging 5.0 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting only 38 percent from the floor and 53 percent from the free-throw line. Despite making all 10 starts, he’s now eighth in minutes on the Mountaineers (9-1).
“He’s a guy that we thought we were going to run offense through,” Huggins said. “He just hasn’t learned that people are stronger, bigger, faster and more athletic than him.”
West Virginia’s coaches still expect Ahmad to become a multi-dimensional threat who hurts defenses from the wing and the post. But this season he’s 1-of-7 from 3-point range and of late his passing hasn’t helped Huggins’ motion offense.
“He’s got to stop throwing the ball away,” the coach said.
Teammates insist Ahmad is enduring the typical freshman confusion, something they hope he’ll begin to overcome as Big 12 action nears. There are only two nonconference games left, starting with Monday night’s visit from Eastern Kentucky (8-5).
Another newcomer, combo guard Teyvon Myers, is struggling to make an impact also. Last season’s junior college scoring champion is contributing 2.1 points and shooting 20 percent from the field in about 9 minutes per game.
“We need (Ahmad) and Teyvon to play—that’s pretty evident,” Huggins said. “As I try to explain to them, I don’t give minutes and I don’t take minutes away either. They do that by their production in practice every day.”
Tipoff: 7 p.m. at WVU Coliseum (ESPNU)
Scouting EKU: German-born power forward Jarelle Reischel (19.8 points, 7.9 rebounds) and small forward JaVontae Hawkins (17.8 points) are the offensive leaders, with 6-9 freshman Nick Mayo (12.9 points, 4.2 rebounds) making an impact too. Reischel is coming off a 29-point outing in Friday’s 87-81 loss at East Tennessee State, which dropped the Colonels to 1-5 on the road. … EKU is No. 244 in the RPI, including a 96-72 loss at Marshall and 88-67 at Kentucky. … Former West Virginia assistant Jeff Neubauer, who coached the Colonels for 10 largely successful seasons, left for Fordham in April and was replaced as head coach by Dan McHale.
WVU trends: West Virginia was 54th in the RPI as of Sunday night. … Devin Williams (16.2 points, 9.5 rebounds) had scored in double digits every game until managing nine vs. Marshall. In that void, Elijah Macon (7.2 points) contributed 12 points, three rebounds and two assists in 18 turnover-free minutes. … Daxter Miles (12.9 points, 2.2 steals) and Jevon Carter (12.7 points, 3.1 assists, 2.5 steals) are the backcourt starters, but Tarik Phillip (5.7 points) leads WVU in assists at 3.4 per game. … Jaysean Paige (10.1 points) is a valuable sixth man who shoots 42 percent from 3, a valuable commodity on a team that ranks 287th of 346 Division I teams in 3-point accuracy (30.5 percent).
Line: West Virginia favored by 18.5
Prediction: West Virginia 97-78