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Extra Spacing Has Given a New Identity to the Mountaineers

MORGANTOWN W.Va- While the departure of Oscar Tshiebwe left some concerned about the depth at forward moving into the Big 12 schedule, the extra spacing that has been created by leaving the “big-man” responsibilities to Derek Culver have paid dividends in the last four games when shooting the ball.

Bob Huggins elected to go with more athletic starting five with the insertion of Jalen Bridges to go along with Derek Culver in the starting lineup with three guards, sacrificing size for shooting, and has proven to be a recipe that could end up improving their efficiency as they move into the middle of the Big-12 season.

Last night, the Mountaineers ended up needing their second highest field goal percentage of the season (second to Richmond) as they struggled with turnovers (12) and free-throws (16-27 overall) during the first 30 minutes of the game. 

The Mountaineers shot 63% from 3-point range last night as part of their 88-87 comeback victory over the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Because of their spike in shooting percentage, it has allowed a higher room for error in areas like turnovers and free-throw shooting when they happen to be not as sharp in those areas.

While the 63% was the season record for 3-point shooting, the decision by Bob Huggins has seemingly given the Mountaineers a new identity, giving Derek Culver and Gabe Osabuohien more room to work and distribute, to find more open shots.

Even with the change in size for the starting five, the Mountaineers were still able to win the rebounding battle against Texas Tech and finished the game shooting 57.7% from the floor.

“We finally made shots,” said head coach Bob Huggins. “(Earlier in the game) we missed free throws and turned the ball over. We were our own worst enemy during the first thirty-two minutes. Then the ball started going in for us. It’s crazy, once (the ball) goes in, it has the tendency to keep going in.”

During their comeback victory, the Mountaineers didn’t miss a shot during the last six minutes and 30 seconds of the game.

The emergence of West Virginia native Jalen Bridges (5-8 shooting), to go along with Miles “Deuce” McBride (7-12 shooting), Taz Sherman (3-5 shooting) and Sean McNeil (5-9 shooting) gave the Mountaineers enough depth on the perimeter to win down the stretch. 

The hot shooting will be important for the Mountaineers to continue when the Florida Gators come into town this Saturday. 

The Gators shoot 47.6% from the field on the season, including 37% from three.

The game will tip off at 2:00 PM and will be televised on ESPN or ESPN2.

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