West Virginia’s offensive struggles cast shadow on its stout defense

Sports

West Virginia’s defense may not be the “Press Virginia” fans grew to know in the Jevon Carter era, but it seems to be working. In their first two Big 12 matchups, the Mountaineers held both Kansas and Oklahoma State more than 20 points below their scoring averages.

Unfortunately for them, their defensive play isn’t what’s getting attention — it’s what’s happening on the other end of the court.

“I don’t know from where you were,” Bob Huggins said after the Mountaineers’ win over Oklahoma State, “it was hard for me to watch sometimes.”

West Virginia and Oklahoma State are the only two Big 12 teams to have played more than one game, so the sample size is small so far — but the numbers have shown that there’s significant room for improvement in the Mountaineer offense.

First, the positives: West Virginia’s three leading scorers were tough to stop for Oklahoma State. Derek Culver, Miles McBride and Oscar Tshiebwe combined to score 31 of West Virginia’s 55 points, while making 66.7 percent of their shots.

That trio has often been the driving force behind the Mountaineers’ scoring, with each making major impacts in different games. However, they haven’t all three clicked at the same time on that level this season, even if their Monday scoring totals didn’t touch their season highs. Plus, many of their buckets came at opportune times — such as McBride’s crowd-silencing three-pointer at the end of the first half to extend the Mountaineer lead.

Beyond those three players, though, the Mountaineers stalled. The rest of the team shot 22.5 percent from the floor, contributing to their measly team total of 38.8 percent.

“Really, it’s just knocking down open shots and making free throws,” McBride said. “We’re getting everything we want, you know, there’s contact down with the bigs, but they’re still finishing through. I think perimeter [players] need to step up and make shots because were getting good ones and we need to hit them.”

Then come the free throw concerns. The Mountaineers have struggled all season from the stripe — of the six players who have taken at least 20 free throws, just one has made at least 80 percent of them (Jordan McCabe has made 85 percent of his 20 shots). This is especially a concern for Culver, who made just 3 of his 10 foul shots against OSU, bringing the team’s percentage down to 55 percent against the Cowboys.

“I’ll just have to go back to the drawing board and just keep shooting free throw after free throw,” Culver said. “I don’t know, I feel like I was sped up [against OSU]. I wasn’t really in my groove, and I couldn’t get out of my head.”

Even before they get a scoring chance, though, West Virginia is having trouble taking care of the basketball. The Mountaineers gave up 20 turnovers, which is more than the 19 field goals they made all game. Of those 19 field goals, they assisted on just 8 of them.

“Coach was telling me, ‘It’s our job as point guards, if we’re moving too fast and going too fast, everybody else is going to do that,'” McBride said. “So we’ve got to slow down and really direct everybody to where they’re supposed to be and keep everything under control.”

No matter what team it is, it is tougher to score points on the road than at home. With both of their Big 12 games so far happening on a road trip, they will get their first shot against a conference opponent at home when No. 22 Texas Tech comes to the WVU Coliseum on Saturday.

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