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WVU’s Bench Played a Crucial Role in Tuesday’s Win Against Texas Tech



When West Virginia defeated Kansas 91-79 last Saturday, the Mountaineers’ bench contributed a total of three points, all courtesy of junior guard Sean McNeil. Despite getting the win over the Jayhawks, WVU coach Bob Huggins said he was very disappointed with the lack of production from the bench.

“We got nothing off the bench in terms of enthusiasm and somebody coming in that was going to uplift us a little bit,” Huggins said on Monday. “I did it a lot at Cincinnati, bringing guys off the bench who just raised our intensity level and it didn’t work out that way.”

The Mountaineers were able to best the Jayhawks even with minimal help from the bench because Miles “Deuce” McBride (31 points) and Taz Sherman (25) both set new career-high scoring marks and Derek Culver chipped in with 19 points of his own. Having just a few players dominating the scoring is not something the Mountaineers have done a lot of time this season, but it did work against Kansas. On Tuesday against No. 7 Texas Tech, however, such a game plan had no shot of succeeding.

The first domino to fall was Sherman. Huggins announced before the start of Tuesday’s game in Lubbock that Sherman was dealing with a groin injury and would be a game-time decision. He was ultimately held out of the action completely. McNeil entered the starting lineup in place of Sherman, his first start in a month.

The next piece to fall was McBride, who picked up his second personal foul just nine minutes into the game against the Red Raiders and spent the entire rest of the first half on the bench. The Mountaineers had come out hot against Texas Tech, hitting all of their first five shots and held a five-point lead when McBride exited the game. Now without his two leading scorers from Saturday, Huggins desperately needed his bench to play better than it did against Kansas.

“We were running out of guys,” Huggins said after the game. “We’ve got [freshman forward] Seny [Ndaiye], who’s tough to put in…he’s just not ready to play at this level, he will be but he’s not now. You subtract him and you subtract Taz and we’re awful short on the bench.”

For McBride, Huggins put in experience junior Jordan McCabe to play point guard. Despite only scoring four points himself, McCabe provided a steadying hand for WVU’s offense in the first half.

“I thought Jordan played really well,” Huggins said. “I thought he gave us really good minutes, made some shots for us, fought it down on the post.”

With Sherman and McBride both out, more and scoring opportunities fell to McNeil, who scored 15 first-half points on 6 of 8 shooting with three 3s. Culver also contributed 12 points and six rebounds. The Mountaineers carried a six-point lead into halftime.

With McBride coming back out for the second half, it appeared that WVU’s personnel issues may come to an end. That thought did not last long, however, as Culver was whistled for three fouls in the first five minutes of the half, giving him four for the game and sending him to the bench. In his place came defensive-minded Gabe Osabuohien who, at the time, had three fouls of his own.

When Osabuohien picked up a fourth foul with more than nine minutes left in the game, Huggins was really put in a bind. Unwilling to throw the young Ndiaye into the fire and not wanting to put Culver back in just yet, Huggins went with a small-ball lineup of McCabe, McCabe, McNeil, Jalen Bridges and Emmitt Matthews.

“I don’t think we were prepared [for that] too well,” McBride said after the game. “We didn’t think both of our bigs were going to get in foul trouble like that. [Bridges] and Emmitt, they’re big guys too, they boxed out when they needed to box out and get boards. They did great, everybody just did what they needed to do.”

In the end, WVU’s reserves got the job done, as the Mountaineers held off several TTU comeback attempts to win 82-71. McNeil finished with a career-high 26 points.

“I’m as pleased as I can be with how we played,” Huggins said. “I thought our bench was really, really good tonight. We’ll keep putting them out there as long as they produce.”

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