By Matt Wertman
With marquee victories over No. 1 Baylor, No. 2 Kansas, and No. 6 Virginia, West Virginia has put together an impressive list of wins to display on its NCAA tournament resume. With those wins, WVU also has some dings. These came in the form of four losses to unranked teams- Temple, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Kansas State. While the margin of defeat for these losses is narrow (11 total points), these games are largely considered “should have won” games.
So, how does West Virginia, a team that has already beaten three top-ten teams in impressive fashion, lose to four unranked teams? The answer may be best summed up in one word; inconsistency. Whether it be lack of effort, poor free-throw shooting, turnovers, or a combination of the three, these have been deficiencies that keep resurfacing for this year’s basketball squad.
“Our effort sucked. It absolutely sucked” Huggins said following the home game against Texas A&M Saturday afternoon. Huggins, who has had to endure watching large leads disappear frequently this season, watched his team narrowly escape the Aggies after a 20-point lead early in the second half dwindled down to 2. “We came out second half and didn’t play with any intensity.”
On Saturday, West Virginia shot just 52% at the free-throw line for the day, and was an abysmal 4 for 15 in the second half. “When you start missing them, it gets in your head, “said Huggins, who continues to struggle to find an answer for West Virginia’s free-throw shooting woes.
Amongst a laundry list of frustrations Huggins often has to relay following games, there is seemingly always one positive; Jevon Carter. The Junior point guard was WVU’s leading scorer Saturday, with 19 points. He is frequently a team leader in scoring and in assists. He had 9 rebounds Saturday, making that two consecutive games that he has been the team’s leading rebounder. Carter’s 3 steals per game are good enough for fifth in the nation.
“Thank God for J.C.,” Huggins said following Saturday’s contest. Without Jevon Carter, WVU likely would not have won the game. The point guard has been relied on heavily throughout the season in close situations, and he continues to prove why is one of the premier point guards in the country.
The head coach attributes Carter’s consistency to his work ethic. “Jevon deserves all (the success) he gets because he works his butt off. You don’t have to worry about him putting the time in. He does all the things that you dream you could have a player do.”
It appears that Carter’s work ethic may have caught the attention of teammate Esa Ahmad, who continues to evolve into a consistent threat for WVU. The Sophomore had a career-high 27 points against Kansas and led the team in assists against Texas A&M on Saturday. Huggins commended Ahmad for his recent focus and work ethic. “He was much more engaged in practice and being an integral part in pressure than he has been.”
With tough contests remaining as WVU approaches the latter part of the season, including at Iowa St., at Kansas, and at Baylor, Huggins hopes that his players will begin to replicate Carter’s work ethic, confident that subsequent success will follow in game-play. “The more you get in the gym, the better you play. It’s amazing how that works, isn’t it?”
Featured image credt Kelsie LeRose BGS