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McCabe, Matthews and Haley find the best way to shut skeptics up


“It is better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” – Mark Twain

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Forgive me, Mark, for I have sinned.

There’s no question who is playing the fool after West Virginia’s Monday night de-pantsing of Texas, which featured star turns from Jordan McCabe and Emmitt Matthews after both of their starting lineup credentials were called into question by this particular village idiot following Saturday’s lackluster loss at Kansas State.

After Monday’s performance, perhaps the better take is “neither of these guys should be subbed out unless they’re in foul trouble or gasping for air.”

Averaging just 13 minutes per game coming into Monday’s matchup, McCabe demonstrated himself to be the floor general that the general public had been expecting to see all season.

He heard the murmurs that he maybe wasn’t fit for the task — perhaps trumpeted more loudly here than any other portal of the internet — and delivered a marvelous rebuke.

“We heard a lot of stuff about being fake starters and things like that,” McCabe said. “Shots fell tonight and confidence is going to continue to rise all the way down the roster.”

Spoken like a true leader. And, needless to say, a real Big 12 starter.

Struggling to find his shot much of the season — he was shooting 25 percent from the field and 17 percent from three-point range — McCabe naturally hit one of the most acrobatic shots you’ll ever see at WVU Coliseum, a fadeaway 3 from the corner off of one foot to beat the shot clock. A more prominent basketball Jordan would have been impressed.

McCabe scored a season-high 10 points, but that wasn’t his biggest contribution.

The sophomore point guard was not remotely fazed by the Longhorn defense, controlling the tempo as the Mountaineers buried Texas in a 28-2 avalanche in the middle of the first half. One game after Kansas State scored 28 points on 17 West Virginia turnovers, McCabe made sure the Mountaineers tightened the lid against a Texas defense every bit as capable of creating similar chaos.

Of the 14 point guards receiving significant playing time in the Big 12, McCabe had the second-highest turnover rate through the first 17 games of the season.

You wouldn’t know it Monday night.

West Virginia finished with eight turnovers, easily a season-low. Three of them came in garbage time.

The Mountaineers had turned the ball over in double figures every game this season, even against the likes of Austin Peay and Northern Colorado. They turned over a new leaf against Texas.

“Limiting our turnovers. That’s really [the difference],” said Matthews, who performed a revival of his own with eight points. “That’s all it is. We had a pretty good team meeting. We can’t turn the ball over anymore. If we take care of the ball, we know what we can do.”

Matthews had been mired in a miserable slump since the Nicholls State game more than a month ago, shooting 5 of 28 from the field, including an 0-for-11 streak from three-point range.

“The team as a whole has been pretty good about getting my confidence back,” Matthews said. “They’ve been trying to support me to get back to what I was at. I was showing everyone early [in my career] that I could shoot the ball. Now it’s time to show everybody I’m not just a shooter. I can get to the elbow or free-throw line or get to the basket.”

West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. (11) shoots a three-pointer over Texas Longhorns guard Courtney Ramey (3) during the first half at WVU Coliseum.

When he drained a three early in the first half, the weight was lifted.

“It’s over,” Matthews said of the slump.

He credits Huggins for maintaining patience while he struggled.

“If you’re a shooter here, you’re going to shoot the ball. That’s how he is,” Matthews said. “Even when I’d come out, he’d tell me to keep shooting the ball. He doesn’t care if I’m missing shots. He wants me to shoot out of the slump. And I think I’m back.”

McCabe and Matthews weren’t the only Mountaineers snapping out of prolonged funks.

Jermaine Haley, who was averaging 12.3 points per game at the start of December, broke double figures for only the third time since his hot start. His 12-point game was his best scoring effort since dropping 18 on Rhode Island.

There was even life from Taz Sherman, who looked completely deflated back when he checked out after five miserable minutes at Kansas State. Sherman scored seven desperately needed points for his confidence, and was among those leading the celebration when walk-on Spencer Macke drained his late three-pointer.

“What helps their confidence is to see it go through the basket,” Huggins said.

A less grizzled coach than Huggins might have cracked and tried shaking things up after a performance like West Virginia’s dismal effort at K-State. It would have been a reasonable enough move given that it was far from an isolated showing for McCabe and Matthews.

Instead, it turns out there’s a reason Huggins is one win away from tying Kentucky legend Adolph Rupp.

Unlike some of us, he knows what the hell he’s doing.

“You guys are into all of that,” Huggins said when asked about the performance of his starting lineup. “I’m not into that… it’s a numbers game, but not a number on a paper. It’s about [creating] 5-against-4, 4-against-3, 2-against-1. That’s the numbers I worry about.”

WVU-Texas video recap

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