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Bock: The Texas Loss Could Be the Best Thing to Happen to WVU

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Photo: Kelsie LeRose / WVSN

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – As the Mountaineers were entering the plane to head to Austin, Texas, they knew they’d be without their two leaders.

Taz Sherman and Gabe Osabuohien, along with freshman Kobe Johnson would be inactive for the Big 12 opener for West Virginia, as they were placed into COVID protocol last week. Sherman, who averages 20.9 points per game, has been leading the offense throughout all of non-conference play. After the departure of Deuce McBride. Sherman took the keys of the offense and made it his own.

As for Osabuohien, he has been the glue that keeps the team together for the past three seasons. The fifth-year senior gives the Mountaineers energy on defense that rallies the entire team together. Osabuohien’s hustle points translate into turnovers. Everyone knows about Osabuohien’s impact.

Other than a tough second half comeback on the road against UAB, this team really hasn’t had too much hardship this season. West Virginia sits at 11-2, with notable wins over UConn (56-53), UAB (65-59), Clemson (66-59), and Oakland (60-53).

It was time that this team had to face real adversity. Big 12 opener, on the road against a ranked team, a New Year’s Day noon tip, without a 20 point-per-game scorer and missing two other rotation players.

What more adversity do you need?

This forced the rest of the team to step up, especially Jalen Bridges and Isaiah Cottrell, who have played conservative all season. Bridges finished with a season high of 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from three. This is the game that Bridges needed to have to boost his confidence. For Cottrell, the 6-foot-10 forward had six points in 27 minutes, showing signs of aggression.

“I think he [Bridges] struggled because he wasn’t making shots,” Huggins said postgame. “He spent time in the gym and he’s been making shots in practice. Obviously he was making shots [on Saturday], I thought JB played well.”

The Mountaineers ended up losing 74-59 to Texas but they were able to find out more about themselves without Sherman and Osabuohien.

“Those are our senior leaders, so it obviously was going to be a struggle without them and Kobe [Johnson] brings a lot to the table,” Bridges said. “It was definitely a challenge but I feel like we battled, we just weren’t making shots, which happens sometimes.”

Bridges mentioned that with Sherman and Osabuohien, the offense flows easier because they’re helping out the players that are lost and don’t know their sets. This was good practice for the Mountaineers to have to adjust and go without their two leaders.

At this exact time last season, the Mountaineers were in a similar spot, just a little bit of a different scenario. When the ball dropped for 2021, Oscar Tshiebwe was out the door and Cottrell suffered a season ending injury. West Virginia had a date with Oklahoma just a day later, in Norman. Bridges replaced Tshiebwe’s starting spot and had a career day. The Fairmont, W. Va., native finished that game with 19 points, on 7-of-9 shooting. From there, WVU went through Big 12 play with their new identity and earned a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Now, it’s time for Bridges to find his new role and the Texas game might’ve just helped that.

As Sherman, Osabuohien and Johnson potentially return to the team later this week, it was a good time for the individuals on the team to evaluate their roles and try something new. Maybe this is where the third option question for West Virginia’s offense finally got answered.

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Ethan Bock is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in journalism at WVU. He currently is an intern with the Final Fourcast podcast. Ethan has covered WVU football and men’s basketball for the last year. He is from Cincinnati, Ohio.

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