MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University men’s basketball team is not one of those teams with a star player everyone else just seems to play around.
Almost exactly the opposite is true. As the No. 12 Mountaineers (14-2, 2-1 Big 12) have climbed the national polls and rankings to be among the better teams in the nation, contributions have come from all over — and not just the starters.
In fact, in WVU’s last three games — all three of the team’s Big 12 wins so far — it has been the Mountaineer bench leading the way.
Against Oklahoma State, the West Virginia bench chipped in with 28 of the team’s 55 points. At home last Saturday against then-No. 22 Texas Tech (now No. 23), bench players scored 41 of West Virginia’s 66 points.
They were at it again Tuesday with TCU visiting the Coliseum. Of the Mountaineers’ 81 points against the previously unbeaten in Big 12 play Horned Frogs, 39 came from bench players.
Just don’t call them “backups”
“The Second Wave?” senior guard Chase Harler said when asked about WVU’s bench play. “The ‘Wave’ came in.”
With 13:48 to play in the first half on Tuesday, WVU trailed TCU 9-7 and Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins was not very thrilled with what he was seeing. That is when West Virginia’s “Wave” hit.
Huggins put Harler, sophomore guard Brandon Knapper, freshman guard Miles “Deuce” McBride and senior forward Logan Routt in the game. Knapper and Harler promptly combined to score eight points to put WVU ahead 15-11. That is when Huggins said he felt like the Mountaineers got pointed in the right direction en route to Tuesday’s eventual 81-49 rout of the visiting Frogs.
“It helped,” Harler said. “We have a lot of confidence in the guys that start. We want them to start off hot, but if not we’ll put the dogs in and run it. We’ve been relying on the bench a decent amount this season, and it’s paying off.”
Another bench player, junior college transfer Sean McNeil, quickly scored eight points on two 3-pointers and a step-in jumper from the left baseline in the final few minutes of the first half Tuesday. Shooting has been one of the few things West Virginia has not done consistently well so far this season, but if the Mountaineers can continue to get contributions — and buckets — from bench players like they have so far in Big 12 play, the sky could be the limit.
“I’ll say if we can do that on a consistent basis, we’re probably one of the better teams in the nation, to be honest with you,” starting sophomore forward Derek Culver said. “You know we’re going to have rebounding, and we’re going to have defense, but if we can get those big shots to really give us that little extra ‘oomph’ we’re going to be a very dangerous team, humbly speaking.”
‘We don’t forget anything’
As West Virginia spiraled to the bottom of the Big 12 standings last season, it took some serious lumps along the way.
One of the more severe beatings the Mountaineers received came almost exactly one year ago in last January’s visit to TCU. The Horned Frogs blasted WVU 98-67 — among the most lopsided losses any Huggins team at any of his coaching stops has ever suffered and tied with WVU’s 31-point loss at Texas Tech for the widest margin in a disappointing season.
Since then, WVU got a triple-overtime win at home against the Frogs later in the season, but that beat-down in Fort Worth was not forgotten with an opportunity to return the favor Tuesday in Morgantown.
“I think they remembered,” Huggins said. “It’s hard not to.”
Culver, who scored 22 points and grabbed 21 rebounds in the triple overtime win last season and followed that with 17 points and 11 rebounds Tuesday, confirmed as much when asked about last year’s game in Texas.
“We do remember that game very vividly,” Culver said. “But, you know, they put it to us pretty bad last year. This year we wanted to return the favor, but humbly, respectfully. We had to go out there and take care of business, because we don’t forget anything.”