MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With 14:07 showing on the first-half clock Monday, Kedrian Johnson was fouled while in the act of shooting and headed to the free throw line.
While Johnson got set to take his first foul shot, Mountaineer head coach Bob Huggins and fifth-year guard Erik Stevenson had a conversation. Standing on opposite sides of the court, the conversation was loud – partially because it had to be with 11,874 fans in attendance, partially because the Hall of Fame head coach was frustrated that, in his eyes, the veteran guard wasn’t listening to his instructions.
“I guess he thought I was talking back when I was saying, ‘Are we going over? Are we going under?'” said Stevenson. “And, you know, I’m never going to win that battle.”
Now more than frustrated a few seconds later, Huggins quickly turned to his bench and demanded that Seth Wilson sub in for Stevenson immediately. Johnson took his first foul shot, and Wilson rushed onto the court to take Stevenson’s place. As Stevenson walked towards the bench, still pleading his case, he was stopped before being able to take his seat.
“He lit into me a little bit. You know, I didn’t like it. I was like, ‘Bro I’m just asking you a question coach,” he added.
Stevenson was strapped to his seat on the sideline for the next six minutes, finally re-entering the game with just under eight and a half minutes remaining in the first half. From that point on he scored 20 points, making seven of his 12 shot attempts from the floor, and all four shots from beyond the arc. Stevenson finished with a game-high 23 points, marking the sixth time this season he has netted at least twenty in a single game this season.
With Stevenson and fellow veteran Tre Mitchell leading the way, offensively, West Virginia coasted to an 85-67 win over Oklahoma State. While a heated conversation that early in the game could have derailed a player’s night, Stevenson didn’t allow that to happen.
“We got that [type of] relationship. Everybody in the program knows that. It’s nothing, literally nothing at all,” said Stevenson.
Huggins and Stevenson have spoken about their relationship throughout this season. It even came up before the guard signed on to be a Mountaineer.
“We talked about it when he was making his decision where he was going to go to school,” said Huggins. “He kind of has jokingly said, ‘It’s great to play against a guy that’s as crazy as I am, or play for a guy as crazy as I am.”
Stevenson is used to playing for fiery, intense coaches. He played under Frank Martin at South Carolina last year, and for Greg Marshall at Witchita State. Stevenson has been able to develop relationships with those types of coaches, he feels, because their passions for the game of basketball come from the same place as his.
Even with that said, Stevenson has to be reigned in at times. One of those instances was after the Oklahoma State game on Jan. 2, during which the guard received a technical foul for a gesture after making a 3-pointer.
Rehashing it on Monday, Huggins said something like that, “hurts him drastically.”
That’s why he put Stevenson in contact with former Mountaineer Mike Gansey, now the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I said to Mike, I said, ‘Tell him what he’s doing to himself. Not what somebody else is doing to him,'” Huggins said.
It appears that conversation has helped.
“I think he’s grown a lot. He’s an emotional guy, that’s evident. That’s OK,” said Huggins. “He’s really grown a lot. I think he’s become a much better teammate. Before he was very quick to point out other people’s mistakes, but not very quick to point out his own. And, I think a lot of that has changed. He’s a different teammate now.”
Stevenson is averaging 18.5 points per game over the last eight contests. He has scored at least 20 points in half of those outings, including each of the last two.