In a season dominated by rebounding, inside scoring and overall strong play from their bigs, West Virginia’s bench players have made themselves an essential piece to their success in each facet of the game.
Now 16 games into the season, this has been apparent for quite a while. There have been flashes all throughout the year, whether it’s Miles McBride using his scoring ability to take over close games or Gabe Osabuohien coming in to do the dirty work — but the Mountaineers’ most recent win over TCU shows just how dangerous they can be when it all comes together.
Early in Tuesday’s contest, the Horned Frogs started to get a slight edge on the scoreboard — but a 14-point run entirely made by bench players gave the Mountaineers the lead that they never gave up. By the end, West Virginia’s bench outscored than TCU’s 36-9.
“Honestly, that’s why we recruited them,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “We recruited Sean [McNeil] because he made shots, and we went through a year where we couldn’t make shots….Taz [Sherman is] the same way. You’re talking about the leading junior college scorer in Division II junior college and the second-leading scorer in Division I junior college. They scored there.”
In all, the newcomer trio of McBride, Sherman and McNeil combine to chip in 19.2 points per contest — but some of the most important contributions come from a seasoned veteran who is a major piece on both ends of the court.
“Chase [Harler] has been terrific,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “Normal people don’t understand how much Chase brings to the table for us. He’s been, in a lot of cases, our best defender on the floor. He’s made shots. He’s constantly telling other guys where to go and what to do. He’s been fantastic.”
Harler was critical to the Mountaineers’ 14-point swing in the first half, scoring half of the points in the run by the “second wave,” as he calls it.
“We have a lot of confidence in the guys that start,” Harler said. “We want them to start off hot, but if not, we’ll just put the dogs in and we’ll run it up. We’ve been relying on the bench a decent amount this season, and it’s paying off.”
While the Mountaineers’ backcourt rotation goes seven deep, it’s not quite that way inside. Because of that, the forward Osabuohien has made himself an essential piece to give Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe some relief in key situations.
“He’s getting a little more attention now, but he’s definitely our unsung hero,” Harler said of his teammate.
Osabuohien doesn’t fill up the stat sheet — he had 3 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals in the win — but he still provides crucial value to the squad. In his 21 minutes on the floor (the second most on the team), he racked up a team-leading plus-minus of +28. On top of that, he has a propensity for drawing charges which can be a real thorn in opponents’ sides.
If it were up to him, though, he’d stay the unsung hero. As long as he plays his best and his teammates do the same, he seems to be happy.
“I just try to come in and play as hard as I can. It may be that way [that I provide a defensive spark], but when I play as hard as I can, and just the rest of my teammates, they see that and they play at the same intensity level, it’s a beautiful thing. I just love it.”
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