On Wednesday evening, the West Virginia basketball team defeated Youngstown State 82-52. Despite the lopsided victory, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins discussed his team’s first half performance, the NET rankings, and getting ready for the start of conference play.
To say West Virginia’s performance in the first half against Youngstown State was ugly for the Mountaineers, you would be putting it nicely. West Virginia shot 7-of-30 from the field and missed all five three-pointers they attempted. West Virginia turned the ball over five times and scored 10 of their 24 first half points from the free throw line.
Huggins said his team came out flat in the first half of the game and did not have any enthusiasm.
“We had zero enthusiasm in the first half,” Huggins said. “What I wanted to tell them was that I grew up playing on the playground, playing in the park and all that kind of stuff. If I’d have came out and played with that lack of enthusiasm they’d never pick me again. We were bad. [There was] no enthusiasm.”
To begin the second half, the Mountaineers went on a 7-0 run, highlighted by back-to-back three pointers from Taz Sherman. Sean McNeil was on fire in the second half, going on a 11-2 run by himself from 14:05 remaining in the second half, until 12:33 remaining, hitting three three-pointers, and sinking two free throws.
Huggins said at halftime he talked to McNeil and Sherman about trying to score the ball more than passing it like the first half. Huggins said because of the way the NET rankings measure the margin of victory, he urged his two guards to pick up the scoring as he knows his team needs to win as many games by as many points as possible.
“I think it worked out fine. I think he (McNeil) and Taz are good teammates, they’re really good teammates,” Huggins said. “I think they saw an opportunity where they could get some other guys involved and in the second half after we had a brief conversation at halftime, they figured out that for us and I’m not in favor of it, I think it’s a bad thing — the NET. If we play a one or two-point game, that kills us. I hate that we have to look at things like that but it is what it is.”
Forward Jalen Bridges finished with nine points and eight rebounds on the night, and looks to be finding his stride after starting out slow in the beginning of the season.
“He’s made plays for us all along. It’s just he does it in spurts rather so you probably don’t notice at much until you look at the final stats,” Huggins said of Bridges. “He’s a really good ball screen guy and he kind of got us going at the beginning of the second half. For whatever reason the ball got stuck, and it’s hard when the ball gets stuck.”
After Wednesday’s 30-point victory, West Virginia closes out a month of December, where the Mountaineers finished with five wins and now carry an eight game winning streak into conference play. West Virginia travels to the Lone Star state for a pair of conference games to begin 2022. West Virginia plays Texas on Jan. 1, before facing TCU on Jan. 3.
Huggins said he thinks his team needs to focus on what they do best and try to continue to get better and improve.
“I would guess a lot of those guys that when we’re warming up at one end and Texas is warming up at the other end they’re going to say ‘oh my gosh, they’re big.’ They’re really big and there’s a lot of them,” Huggins said on Texas.
“We just got to do what we do. We got out-rebounded by 12 today, can you imagine what that would be at Texas. We got to do a better job. It seems like the older guys, JB , Taz and those guys, are more in-tune with what I’m telling them. Those other guys have been wherever they’ve been, and I don’t think there’s the urgency to continue to be one of the premiere programs in the country. A lot of them are at places where okay, oh well we are what we are and we’re not good enough to be there and so let’s not worry about it,” Huggins said.
Huggins added he feels he owes the people of the state as well as the alumni of West Virginia University to try and put the best product on the court possible.
“With the legacy we have here, I don’t want Jerrod (Calhoun) calling me saying ‘what is going on here.’ We have an obligation to some of the greatest alumni in the world, to a state that loves basketball,” Huggins said. “This is for what anybody wants to say, think, or do, it is a basketball state — we all know that. West Virginia people love West Virginia. They’re proud of the history of what’s went on here. We’re to the point and I hope I’ve helped this to the point where we want to play and advance in the NCAA Tournament. We want to play against the best and beat the best and anything less than that I understand why the people are disappointed, but they’re not any less disappointed than I am.”
Photo by Dale Sparks, All Pro Photography