A lot of the talk around West Virginia basketball leading into this season has revolved around the Mountaineer frontcourt and for good reason.
Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe make up one of the best big man duos in the country, but that does not mean opponents can just ignore the WVU backcourt. With players like Miles “Deuce” McBride, Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil, all in the second seasons with WVU, the Mountaineers are not afraid to take shots this season.
That mindset was on full display in the season-opener Wednesday night as the Mountaineers attempted 32 three-pointers in the 79-71 victory over South Dakota State. Tshiebwe only played 14 minutes dealing with foul issues and SDSU focused a lot of attention on Culver down low, opening up WVU’s perimeter players to take shots.
Even though the Mountaineers only made eight of those 32 threes, coach Bob Huggins said after the game that he still wants them to shoot.
“When they’re open I want them to shoot it,” Huggins said. “[SDSU] did a great job of packing it in and trying to keep the bigs away from it.”
McBride, who started the game at point guard, led all scorers with 23 points on 9-19 shooting. Huggins said he’s been considering using sets with him, Sherman and McNeil on the floor together.
“Deuce, because he has more ball-handling responsibilities, didn’t get as many [shots] as maybe he could’ve or should’ve,” Huggins said. “I’ve been thinking in the back of my mind that if we put Taz, Deuce and Sean on the floor at the same time, we can really get the floor spread.”
McNeil and Sherman finished second and third on the team with 16 and 14 points, respectively. Sherman shot 4-9 with 4-6 from three and McNeil struggled to start the game and finished shooting only 6-16 and 2-9 from three.
If all three do play together, Huggins said they would need to be careful on defense to not pick up any unnecessary fouls that could keep them off the floor later in the game.
“When you score as much as [Sean] and Taz do, you’re not a very good coach if you tell them ‘go guard the best guy’ all the time,” Huggins said. “You’ve got to have them on the floor and I think [Sean’s] come a long way defensively. He didn’t shoot it as well as he has been shooting it.”
Overall, WVU shot 30-77 (39%) on the day, 8-32 (25%) from three-point range. The Mountaineers did make 11-14 free throws and only turned the ball over three times.
“They really did a good job of packing in their defense and just not allowing easy passes into the post and that’s usually our bread and butter,” Sherman said. “They just forced us to take shots that we usually wouldn’t take even though we have good shooters. We usually try to throw the ball and work inside out but they did a good job of really just packing everything in.”
“They played really solid on defense,” McBride added. “A lot of the shots I think we can make, it just didn’t go in today. We’re going to obviously look at the film and see other ways we can get our offense moving better and have a little bit more flow to it.”
WVU moves on to play in the second round of the Crossover Classic tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. against the winner of VCU and Utah State.