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Starting Small Does Not Work, Mountaineers Find Success Going Big Versus Cowboys

Cody Nespor

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – After losing three games in a row, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins had decided it was time to make some changes.

Those changes were on display Tuesday night against Oklahoma State when Huggins and the Mountaineers debuted a new starting lineup focusing more on speed and shooting than their bigger, rebounding and defense lineup. The lineup changes were Miles McBride starting a point guard instead of Jordan McCabe, Taz Sherman starting at the other guard spot and Jermaine Haley moving from guard to forward with Derek Culver going to the bench. Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Oscar Tshiebwe kept their same starting roles.

West Virginia ended up beating the Cowboys 65-47 but, ironically, the changes Huggins made only hurt the team and going back to the old lineup helped. It was only when Haley moved back to guard and Culver played together with Tshiebwe that the Mountaineers started to find some success.

“We started small and that probably wasn’t the right thing to do, in hindsight,” Huggins said. “We were struggling so bad to score playing that bigger lineup but I thought the big lineup in the second half really saved us. Derek, Oscar and Gabe (Osabuohien) all were good defensively and I think moving Jermaine from guarding a forward out to guarding a guard, he did a great job of shutting off their penetration. When they did penetrate, Derek did a great job of blocking and changing shots.”

In the first half with the smaller lineup, West Virginia shots 11-28 (39.3%) and scored 28 points. This was while allowing OSU to shoot 13-21 (61.9%) and score 33 points.

“(I) go in at halftime and say ‘can’t do that anymore’,” Huggins said. “So we put Derek in and Jermaine was playing forward, moved him to guard so we could utilize our size.”

After switching back to the bigger lineup with two forwards, the Mountaineers scored 37 points on 12-25 (46.2%) shooting and only allowed 14 points on 5-30 (16.7%) shooting. With the old lineup WVU’s shooting improved 6.9 points and Oklahoma State’s plummeted by 45.2 points. The Mountaineers also grabbed 26 rebounds in the second half, compared to only 16 in the first.

“It was a different lineup, we were trying to do different things and in hindsight, that probably wasn’t the smart thing to do,” Huggins said. “After we changed lineups and we could do a better job of guarding, a better job of rebounding, we ran better offense.”

OSU coach Mike Boynton said he does not try to overthink his opponents, but he was not surprised to see Huggins make some changes. Huggins said he could tell the Cowboys were not fazed by it.

“I wasn’t necessarily surprised that he made some changes considering they lost three in a row,” Boynton said. “As a coach, your job is to try to find ways to help your team have success, maybe it’s small things you can change like that.”

“They were really well prepared, they took away everything that we wanted to do and we didn’t handle it very well,” Huggins said. “You’re talking about a bunch of upperclassmen, a bunch of seniors and they kind of overpowered our younger guys.”

Despite some struggles playing small, Huggins said the team is not going to just discard the sets that feature less size and more shooting.

“We’re going to keep working on them. We keep working on them I think we’ll get some good things out of them.”

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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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