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Matthews and Bridges Give West Virginia Intriguing Wing Options in 2020-21

Cody Nespor

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Entering last season, Bob Huggins’s plan at the wing position was fairly simple; hope that Emmitt Matthews did not get tired.

Matthews was the team’s only full-time wing player and he was coming off of a successful end to his freshman season. While players like Jermaine Haley and Taz Sherman could, at times, fill in at wing, the spot was clearly Matthews’s. The Tacoma, WA native started 30 of the team’s 31 games and averaged 21.3 minutes a night.

Matthews started the season as well as any Mountaineers, averaging 10.6 points and 4.9 rebounds in the team’s first 10 games. After those first 10 games, however, Matthews’s scoring more or less cratered. He scored double-digit points just twice after Dec. 14. In the team’s final 21 games Matthews averaged just 4.2 points per game and shot 7-38 (18.4%) from three-point range.

In the most recent United Bank Playbook with Tony Caridi, Huggins said that Matthews might not have been aggressive enough through the season.

“I think you can be too good a guy,” Huggins said. “Emmitt really loves his team, loves his teammates and sometimes I think he took a backseat when he probably shouldn’t have taken a backseat. But took a backseat in a good way because he thought it was the right thing to do when in fact, as it turned out after the fact, it probably wasn’t the right thing to do. I think he’s going to come back way more aggressive.”

A more aggressive Matthews is not the only boost WVU would get at the wing next year as freshman Jalen Bridges will also be playing the position. Bridges decided to forgo a post-grad year of high school to instead redshirt with the Mountaineers last season. Huggins said he will finally play as a redshirt freshman in 2020-21.

“I’m excited when you look at our frontline and the people that we have on the frontline and the skill level we have on the frontline,” Huggins said. “You take Emmitt and JB (Jalen Bridges), those are two guys that can make shots on the perimeter that we haven’t had, quite frankly.”

The lone glimpse WVU fans got of Bridges last season was five minutes of playing time in the team’s exhibition against Duquesne. Bridges scored four points and grabbed a rebound in those five minutes.

“He’s got a good basketball mind,” Huggins said of Bridges. “His father has done a great job. I think he’s been coached and he’s had the opportunity to make some mistakes…I think he’s going to play.”

Along with scoring, Matthews has also shown the ability to rebound, averaging 3.1 as a freshman and 3.6 last season. From what he’s seen in practice, Huggins said Matthews and Bridges, both listed at 6-foot-7, could be excellent rebounders.

“I was honestly surprised at how well (Bridges) rebounded the ball,” Huggins said. “I thought he would get knocked all around with those bigs, and we’ve got some big bodies in there if you think about Logan Routt, and Derek (Culver) and Oscar (Tshiebwe) those are some big bodies and he rebounded the ball well.”

If all goes as planned, Matthews, Bridges and the rest of the Mountaineers will open the regular season Nov. 10 against Fairleigh Dickinson.

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Cody is currently a second-year graduate student at West Virginia University studying journalism. His graduate research focuses on the effects newspaper closures have on local communities. He graduated from Slippery Rock University in 2018 with a degree in digital media production. He was born and raised in Mercer, Pennsylvania.

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