(Postgame video recap)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In a game decided by nine points, perhaps there was no more glaring statistic than Baylor doubling up West Virginia on points from layups and dunks, with the Bears scoring 28 to the Mountaineers’ 14.
Baylor willed its way to nine layups and five dunks in the 77-68 triumph, while the Mountaineers converted only 7-of-22 layups and were held without so much as a dunk attempt for the second time in five Big 12 Conference games.
Although WVU rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit to trail by four at the break, before leading on multiple occasions in the second half, an inability to produce points from close range plagued the Mountaineers mightily in their first home loss.
“What sticks out to me is all the times we had shots from a foot away and we didn’t make them in the second half,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “It’s crazy. It’s like, ‘well it rolled off the front off the rim.’ Yeah, it rolled off the front of the rim, because you didn’t get it over the rim. We have to do a better job of the eye of the tiger. I honestly thought with all those bigs that we could run through, they would compete among themselves. It really hasn’t happened.”
Against the Bears, Isaiah Cottrell, Pauly Paulicap, Dimon Carrigan and Seny N’diaye — players WVU often asks to play near the basket — combined for 2 points on 1-of-6 shooting. Paulicap and the seldom-used N’diaye played only 3 minutes each, while Cottrell was the lone scorer of the group, but missed three of his four shot attempts in 9 minutes. Carrigan, despite missing his only field-goal attempt, logged the most minutes of the group at 14 and finished with three rebounds and a block.
Forwards Gabe Osabuohien and Jalen Bridges also struggled to produce offense, with Osabuohien scoring 3 points in 22 minutes and Bridges finishing with 7 points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Following West Virginia’s second straight loss, Huggins called his team’s inability to convert near the basket a “habitual problem”, and suggested he’d like to see a bulk of his roster devote more time to fixing it.
“I hear the ball bounce, and I look down there and kind of want to see one of our guys working on his game, and it’s [former WVU players] Kevin Jones or it’s Devin Williams or it’s Juwan Staten or Alex Ruoff. It’s not our guys. We’re asking guys who never played at this level to step up, and then because really they don’t or they can’t, it places a huge burden on JB [Bridges], Taz [Sherman] and Sean [McNeil] to score. It makes it hard.”
Through its first five Big 12 games, West Virginia is averaging 65.4 points, which isn’t far off its season average of 68.9 points. However, the Mountaineers are shooting 42.7 percent for the season, but just 37.2 percent in conference play, having made 111-of-298 shots. Furthermore, Huggins’ team is making less than 40 percent of its two-point field goals (82 of 206) in Big 12 play and has converted fewer than half of its layups, having made 45 of 99.
For a team that has registered only four dunks in five Big 12 games, West Virginia is relying heavily on its backcourt to produce the majority of its offense.
Although Sherman’s production has dipped of late, he and McNeil have registered double-figure scoring in 15 of 16 appearances this season. Point guard Malik Curry is closing in on Bridges as the Mountaineers’ third-leading scorer, with the Old Dominion transfer having scored 56 points in the team’s three Big 12 losses, including 42 against Kanas and Baylor.
“A guy like that, the great thing they do to help bigs is they make people help up,” Huggins said. “So you can’t stand back there, because he’s good enough just to pull up and shoot it in. So you have to come towards him. He has people coming forward, which should enable our guys in the back to be inside to rebound. And the best way to rebound is to be the closest guy to the ball.
“Well if you’re inside, you should be the closest guy to the ball. You should be blocking those guys out and you have every advantage to block them out and get second shots. He does that for us. We just don’t take advantage of it the way we need to take advantage of it.”
WVU is in the midst of one of its toughest stretches in the history of its basketball program, and things don’t get any easier Saturday at No. 18 Texas Tech.
Huggins doesn’t have an instant remedy to cure his team’s lack of scoring from near the rim, though he thought back to when he coached Danny Fortson at Cincinnati and the burly forward brought in linemen from the Bearcats’ football team that forced Fortson to score through contact from close range.
“I don’t know if they were defensive or offensive tackles, but they were big dudes,” Huggins recalled. “He did it every day. Every day before practice he got those guys in there and they hit him now. It got to where they’re like, ‘coach, he’s killing us and we can’t do anything with him.’ Now we don’t have anybody with Danny’s physique obviously, but still, the guys that excel at this game are the guys that put time in.
“This guy goes from being an OK player to being a first-team All-American to being a first-round draft pick (No. 10 overall in 1997) and playing whatever it was [11 seasons] in the NBA. But he deserved it and he put the time in. That’s the point. If you don’t practice your craft, you’re not going to be good at it. It doesn’t matter what it is.”