MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Derek Culver is one player with whom Bob Huggins has no qualms about sending a strong message.
Culver’s West Virginia career began with one. He was suspended by Huggins for the first semester of his college career, which both parties have since deemed as helpful to Culver’s overall maturation.
Huggins pulled Culver out of the starting lineup on two previous occasions this season, using him off the bench against Northern Colorado and Rhode Island in non-conference games intended to send a message.
Each time, Huggins got through. Culver ended up with a career-high 25 points against Rhode Island. Against Northern Colorado, Culver scored 13 in his 11 minutes on the floor, including a 7 of 8 showing at the free-throw line.
So it is absolutely no surprise that Culver once again had an answer for one of Huggins’ benchings, with his defensive presence in the second half helping account for Oklahoma State’s dramatic drop-off in shooting Tuesday night. After firing 62 percent from the field in the first half, the Cowboys only hit 17 percent of their field-goal attempts in the second.
“You can’t underestimate what Derek did,” Huggins said. “You’re talking about a 6-foot-9, 270-pound guy who can sit down to stay in front of people. Make them shoot over him, and then, when he wants to be a shot-blocker, he can block shots.”
Culver finished the game with 10 rebounds and two blocks in his 20 minutes. He also chipped in six points, including West Virginia’s first bucket of the second half.
“I think the first couple shots he blocked got their attention a little bit,” Huggins said. “They were a little less eager to drive it after the rim after that.”
Culver struggled during West Virginia’s three-game losing streak, failing to reach double-figure scoring or rebounding. The Baylor loss was the low point, with Culver playing only 12 minutes after putting up three points, three rebounds and four turnovers.
“I took it as a challenge personally, I’m not going to lie, to go out and showcase what I have,” Culver said of the benching. “But I wasn’t upset or anything like that. It was just kind of a little wakeup call. It was nothing bad. In the second half I came out and kind of capitalized on it.”