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Going Smaller ‘Definitely a Mistake’ According to Huggins

Cody Nespor

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If West Virginia’s smaller lineup experiment was not done after a poor showing in the first half against Oklahoma State, it certainly seems like it is done now.

After losing in overtime to TCU Saturday afternoon, a game where the team started just one big man for the second game in a row, WVU coach Bob Huggins said trying to go with a smaller lineup was the wrong decision for this team.

“We decided to go smaller, probably a mistake,” Huggins said. “The way it turned out, definitely a mistake.”

After starting big men Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver together all season, Huggins decided to make some changes following a three-game losing streak to Oklahoma, Kansas and Baylor.

Those changes were on display Tuesday night against Oklahoma State when guards Miles McBride and Taz Sherman started in the places of Jordan McCabe and Culver. It was this same lineup that Huggins rolled about Saturday against TCU.

The Mountaineers battled the Horned Frogs all game long but scored only five points in the overtime period to lose 67-60. It was the team’s fourth loss in five games.

The deficiencies with the smaller lineup were on display almost immediately. Against the Cowboys on Tuesday, playing exclusively with the smaller lineup, the Mountaineers allowed 33 points on 61.9% shooting in the first half.

WVU trailed 33-28 at halftime when Huggins decided to but both of his bigs back out there. With two bigs, mainly Culver and Gabe Osabuohien, in the lineup in the second half the Mountaineers held OSU to just 14 points on 16.7% shooting.

Against a TCU team that primarily runs four guards, however, Huggins decided to try the smaller lineup again. He said his reasoning behind the decision was that Tshiebwe is not able to guard on the perimeter, meaning having him and another big man on the floor at the same time would put WVU at a disadvantage.

Although TCU jumped out to an early 11-6 lead, the smaller lineup performed a bit better in its second game. The Mountaineers fought back to cut TCU’s lead to just 14-12 with 13:31 remaining in the half.

At that point Huggins put two big men back out on the court, subbing in Osabuohein to play with Culver. Over the next seven minutes, WVU would go on a 13-1 run, building up a 10-point, 25-15 lead. Entering halftime WVU had a 31-29 lead.

In the second half, Huggins went back to playing just one big man, playing Osabuohien only four minutes and Tshiebwe only eight. Tshiebwe and Culver played in the overtime period but combined for only two points and three rebounds.

While WVU’s smaller lineup did limit TCU’s effectiveness on the perimeter, the Horned Frogs just 6-18 from three, having only one big man opened up the Mountaineers defense inside. TCU forward Kevin Samuel was a perfect 7-7- from the floor for 19 points and eight rebounds.

West Virginia has a quick turnaround to their next game, a rematch with the Texas Longhorns in Austin Monday night. Tip-off from the Erwin Center is set for 7 p.m. EST.

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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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