MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – Two weeks ago ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla was making jokes about WVU forward Gabe Osabuohien’s offense.
“This kid can’t score if you left him by himself in a gym,” Fraschilla joked during the broadcast of WVU’s victory over Oklahoma State on Jan. 6.
Fraschilla might have been quoting other teams’ scouting reports, as WVU’s opponents continued to sag further and further away from Osabuohien whenever he got the ball on offense.
A transfer this season from Arkansas, Osabuohien has never had great offensive success in college. As a sophomore Razorback in 2018-19, he averaged 3.1 points playing 15 minutes per game. He shot 32.8% from the floor and just 20% from three.
With the Mountaineers, however, Osabuohien had quickly carved out a role as a do-it-all, energy guy off the bench. He was doing everything, playing tight defense, getting rebounds, drawing fouls but just not scoring. Through his first 13 games this season, the junior had only scored 21 points on 8-28 shooting. Even then, Osabuohien found value on offense as a facilitator in the high post, his 2.1 assists per game is tied for most on the team.
Something changed recently, however. During the loss to Kansas State over the weekend, Osabuohien started attacking the basket more when defenders sagged away from him. He scored a season-high 10 points in the game, hitting 4-5 shots from the floor, also a season-high.
It could have been a one-game fluke. A bench player scoring more points during a blowout loss is not unheard of, but Monday night he came out and did it again.
Against Texas Osabuohien again attacked the basket more aggressively when he had the ball and defenders game him space. He scored nine points against the Longhorns. In two games Osabuohien had scored 19 points and made eight buckets, in the previous 13 games he had scored 21 points and made eight buckets. According to him, this was all due to a more aggressive mindset.
“Just being more aggressive, because them having to guard me is going to make it harder on everyone, going to make my passes easier when I’m being guarded. Just being more aggressive and not being too conservative,” Osauohien said. “(WVU coach Bob) Huggins told me to ‘look to be more aggressive’ that’s what he told me. I’m, starting to be more aggressive but still be in my role.”
Osabuohien said if he can force teams to have to guard him when he has the ball, all that will do is open up more passing lanes and make it easier for his teammates to score.
“I think coach Huggins wants me to work on that to where I can hit that (shot) consistently. Definitely in the scouting report, they’re going to start being forced, because now I’m starting to attack, to guard me more so that’s better for the team, better for everybody,” Osabuohien said. “When they’re on me, it makes it easier for me to pass the ball to DC (Derek Culver) and Oscar (Tshiebwe).”
Huggins said he knew Osabuohien could score because he puts the work in.
“Gabe puts time in, Gabe puts a lot of time in,” Huggins said. “I said basketball’s like your girlfriend, if you don’t pay any attention to her you’re probably going to lose her. If you don’t pay any attention to basketball it’s going to get you. When guys don’t get in the gym, they don’t get extra shots up, when they don’t show some appreciation, it gets them. And we’ve had guys being guilty of that…Gabe gets in the gym.”
When he transferred here, Osabuohien had no expectations for what role he was going to play, instead deciding just to fill in whatever the team needed.
“My mindset was to come in here and see what the team lacked and just be whatever the team lacked. Coming off the bench you see the first couple minutes of the game and you’re looking to see how you can impact the game as soon as you get in, so that’s definitely my role,” Osabuohien said. “I knew I had it in me (to score), it was just if I need to do it. Before now they weren’t guarding me, but now that they are, it’s making it easier to get to my right hand and finish.”
Whether or not Osabuohien keeps up this scoring pace might be irrelevant to his value to the team, and how the fans feel about him. When Osabuohien was subbed out in the second half versus TCU last week, he received a standing ovation from the crowd, despite not yet having scored a single point in the game.
Gabe Osabuohien gets a big ovation when he comes out of the game. Mountaineer fans know!
— John Antonik (@JohnAntonik) January 15, 2020
OSabuohien and the Mountaineers’ next challenge will come against Missouri as a part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday. Tip-off from the WVU Coliseum will be at noon.