MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – Having three players on a basketball team all going through a scoring slump at the same time is never a good thing, but it is even worse when all three of those players are starters.
This has been the case for West Virginia in the past month with Jordan McCabe, Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Jermaine Haley all struggling with their offensive consistency since at least the turn of the calendar.
No matter how bad it got, however, coach Bob Huggins put faith in his guys and let them play their ways through it. The flood gates seemed to open Monday night against Texas however as all three had their pest offensive outputs in weeks.
Huggins said what finally changed was their aggression and confidence.
“I thought Jermaine and Emmitt particularly were a lot more aggressive,” Huggins said after the game. “You see the ball go through the basket, it helps (with confidence) and both of them saw the ball go through the basket early.”
Matthews scored eight points on 2-3 shooting with 1-2 from three-point range, not a huge offensive night but still his most points scored since Dec. 14. The three-pointer was also his first made since Dec. 14.
It was also the first game where Matthews made multiple field goals since Dec. 29. He shot 3-17 (17.6%) in the five games since. No matter how poorly he was shooting, however, Huggins kept putting him out there, kept letting him take shots. Being able to shoot his way out of the slump is part of Huggins’s system, according to Matthews.
“If you’re a shooter and your job is to shoot the ball, you’re going to shoot the ball,” Matthews said. “Every time I went into the game, or the last few games when I come out (Huggins) would tell me to keep shooting the ball. He doesn’t care if I’m missing shots, he wants me to shoot out of the slump and I think I’m back.”
“Sometimes the ball just doesn’t go in,” Huggins said. “Emmitt was shooting it really well early and then he just went into a funk.”
Haley’s slump had been less about efficiency and more about production. In the first seven games of this season, Haley scored double-digit points in five of them. In the next nine games before Monday, he scored in double figures just twice. On Monday he scored 12 points on 6-10 shooting, his biggest output since Dec. 1.
Huggins said the plan was to get Matthews and Haley going early in the contest to help with their confidence.
“It helps their confidence to see it go through the basket,” Huggins said. “I can let them shoot it all I want to let them shoot it, if it doesn’t go in it doesn’t help their confidence very much. They have to make some shots and Emmitt made some shots today to start out with, we ran a couple things for Jermaine to start out with to try and get him going a little bit.”
McCabe’s slump was the most pronounced of the three. He has not shot the ball well all season long, going 14-56 (25%) from the floor and 7-40 (17.5%) from three prior to Monday’s game. Even still, Huggins continued to start McCabe and let him play through it. He said all McCabe need was to see himself make some shots.
“(McCabe’s poor shooting is) almost impossible for me to believe for as much time as he spends and as hard as he works at it,” Huggins said. “It’s so much mental. You watch yourself miss and that’s what you see, you see yourself miss. The ball goes in, you see it going in and that’s what you see, you see it going in.”
Against the Longhorns McCabe scored a season-high 10 points on 4-7 shooting, including going 2-3 from three. It was only his fourth multi-field goal game this season and the first time he has made multiple threes in the same game. The improved shooting also led to a bigger role in the game with McCabe playing a season-high 23 minutes.
McCabe said the biggest thing that was holding him back was his confidence and Huggins allowing him to shoot through his woes helped with that.
“You have to be able to maintain confidence, and it’s really easy to do that when things are going good. But when things are going bad, that’s when you find out who you really are,” McCabe said. “Huggs has never told any of his guys ‘don’t shoot’. Huggs has never said that and he never will.”
The extra confidence McCabe had from making shots led to him playing more aggression, so much so that even Texas coach Shaka Smart took notice.
“McCabe played well, he really hadn’t been playing as much, but we knew he was capable based on what he did in the second half last year,” Smart said. “I challenged our guards to be more aggressive than him and I think he won that battle.”
McCabe, Mathews and Haley shot a combined 12-20 from the floor Monday night, helping the team make a season-high 36 field goals.
The Mountaineers will look to continue this momentum Saturday against Missouri in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Tip-off from the WVU Coliseum will come at noon.