MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Sean McNeil was recruited to West Virginia as a shooter, but with each game he is providing evidence that he brings a great deal more to the table.
Saturday, we learned that there is also a little bit of Mutombo in the 6-foot-3 shooting guard’s arsenal.
In addition to scoring 10 points, McNeil recorded his first two blocked shots as a Mountaineer in West Virginia’s 83-57 win over Nicholls, including one that drew one of the loudest roars of the season from the WVU Coliseum crowd despite relatively sparse attendance on a cold, rainy day at the height of holiday shopping season.
Colonels guard Andre Jones had his eyes on a fast-break dunk with his team vying to make one last push from a 15-point deficit with 6 minutes remaining. He made a mistake, though.
Clearly unconcerned about the possibility of being rejected by McNeil, Jones switched the ball to his right hand as he prepared to throw down a tomahawk dunk. That move played right into McNeil’s hands.
After sizing up the situation, McNeil pounced cat-like with a perfectly timed jump, swatting the ball off the backboard where it was corralled by the trailing Oscar Tshiebwe.
“I didn’t know he had it in him,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
Huggins isn’t the only one sharing that sentiment.
“People don’t think I’m an athlete,” McNeil said. “But I’ve got a little up my sleeve.”
McNeil drained three three-pointers against the Colonels, surpassing Emmitt Matthews for the team lead with 16 this season. But those don’t match the feeling of swatting an opponent’s shot.
“Honestly, swatting a guy at the rim gets the whole team going,” McNeil said. “It gets the whole crowd going. It’s a huge thing that gets us going.”
McNeil is only a sophomore with a year of junior college experience. What he might become over the course of his West Virginia career has Huggins excited.
“He’s got a chance to be a real, real good player,” Huggins said. “He went to [Division II] Bellarmine. Didn’t fit in or whatever and didn’t play. Just went to school and sat out a year.
“Went to junior college in Dayton [Ohio]. Then, at the end, he got recruited by a whole bunch of people.”
It’s starting to look like more than a few of those who let McNeil slip through the cracks will have some regrets in the next 2-3 years.
Sherman shows signs of thawing
In addition to being a shot-blocker, McNeil is also a prognosticator. Earlier this week, he predicted that fellow shooting guard Taz Sherman would soon come around after a dreadful start to the season.
“Taz has a tremendous ability to score the ball,” McNeil said on Wednesday. “Me and him kind of had the same issue. Once Taz just settles down and does what he does, we’ll skyrocket.”
The first seeds of future skyrocketing were laid Saturday.
It was modest enough — Sherman had eight points on 3 of 4 shooting, including one three-pointer. But for someone who came into the game shooting 28.2 percent from the field, it was a badly needed confidence boost.
“When I missed as many shots as I did, it’s unusual for me. It was kind of frustrating at first,” Sherman said. “I need to have amnesia.
“This week in practice, my shot was feeling pretty good. I was getting into my shots pretty well. It felt like the old me again.”
Day of the Hunter
Nicholls guard D’Angelo Hunter made a weird bit of WVU Coliseum history Saturday.
According to WVU Athletics director of content John Antonik, Hunter was the third former West Virginia player to come back with a different team, joining Luke Bonner (UMass, 2007) and Brett Vincent (Robert Morris, 1990).
Hunter, who averaged 1.5 points per game in his lone season as a Mountaineer in 2017-18, scored a team-high 14 points for the Colonels.
The increased playing time that came from Hunter’s transfer did not pick up many sympathy votes from the WVU student section, which booed him every time he touched the ball in 34 minutes.
Huggins had good things to say about Hunter after the game, though.
“D’Angelo is a good guy,” Huggins said. “We’ve got pretty much a whole new team from then. Our guys don’t know D’Angelo — coaches do, but not the players.”
One exception was senior Logan Routt, who gave Hunter a hug in the player handshake line after the game.
Senior guard Jermaine Haley, who started West Virginia’s first nine games, did not play Saturday. Huggins called it a “coach’s decision.”
Chase Harler took Haley’s place in the starting lineup. Haley is second on the team with an average of 11.1 points per game.