MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If the season’s first 10 games are any indication, it’s evident West Virginia will rely heavily on guards Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil to provide scoring punch.
After Sherman and McNeil combined to score all but 17 Mountaineer points in Sunday’s 63-50 win over Kent State, the duo is responsible for more than half of the team’s offense on average.
With a scoring average of 21.8 points, Sherman easily leads West Virginia in that category and is sixth in all of college basketball, only 0.6 points per game behind the nation’s leader — Kansas’ Ochai Agbaji.
McNeil, meanwhile, had a strong showing in West Virginia’s two most recent wins, returning from a lower back injury that kept him out of the previous contest against Radford to score 16 points against Connecticut and 19 vs. the Golden Flashes.
McNeil now has a 13.2 scoring average, meaning he and Sherman combine to average 35 of the team’s 69.8 points per game.
“We complement each other really well,” McNeil said. “I said this going into the year — he creates for himself a little better than I do, but that’s good for me, because I’m known for spot-up shooting. He creates and if you put me and him on the same side of the floor, do you help off me? The person guarding him, chances are they’re probably not going to be able to stay in front of him, so you kind of pick your poison. In that aspect, we complement each other really well.”
The 6-foot-4 Sherman and 6-3 McNeil are similar in stature, though Sherman scores more from the free-throw line and off penetration.
“I feel like I’m a scorer that can shoot,” Sherman said. “I can do all three levels of scoring, but I can also shoot. Sean is the opposite of that. Sean’s a shooter that can also score, like Seth Curry almost. Somebody is trying to run him off the 3-point line and they don’t know that he has this other stuff in his game.”
Both Sherman and McNeil are playing their third and final seasons at West Virginia after excelling at the junior college level before coming to Morgantown.
While each was a significant contributor for the Mountaineers a season ago, they are unquestionably the team’s go-to options these days.
“Taz really gets his feet down,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “He can come from different angles and just do an unbelievable job of getting his feet down and getting his shoulders square. Sean’s more straight ahead. Sean tries to drive it hard at you to try to get you to back up and get you back on your heels so he can elevate and shoot it.
“Everybody has to have their shoulders square, but he has to start with them, where Taz can run all over the place and get his shoulders square and get his feet down. Sean gets his feet down well, but not from different angles the way Taz does.”
Perhaps most importantly and somewhat lost in the shuffle through the majority of West Virginia’s non-conference play has been the ability for both Sherman and McNeil to stay on the court.
In more than 335 minutes of action, Sherman has been whistled for seven personal fouls. In nearly 313 minutes of play, McNeil has picked up a total of five fouls.
McNeil (34.8 minutes per game) and Sherman (33.5 mpg) are the team’s only two players logging more than 30 minutes on average and two of three players averaging more than 20 minutes, with swingman Jalen Bridges (25.1) the third.
“They’ve both gotten better defensively,” Huggins said. “They were not real good defenders before. They’re pretty good defenders now. [Associate head coach Larry Harrison] has done a really good job with them at individual defense.”
Sherman can sense his defensive improvement and believes part of it stems from his familiarity with what Huggins wants from his team in that regard.
“I think of myself as a solid defender. Knowing the rotations, and knowing what Huggs wants on defense and our defensive schemes, that definitely helps me, especially being a third-year player here,” Sherman said. “I know what he wants specifically within every defense. I try to do my best on that and I try to be a defensive leader and talk as much as I can out there.”
Both Sherman and McNeil submitted their names into the NBA Draft process during the offseason before opting to return to West Virginia.
While both players have assumed an expanded role as they try to expand their game to play at the next level, the Mountaineers would greatly benefit from finding a consistent third scorer — specifically someone who could score from close range — to relieve the sharpshooting duo of some of that load.
“I think JB [Bridges] will be it,” Huggins said. “But we need somebody else to score. We really need somebody to score it close. If you think back, for the most part, we’ve had a guy like that. We had Derek [Culver] for three years who was a guy when we really had to stop the bleeding so to speak, we could throw it close. We don’t have anybody to throw it close to.”