MORGANTOWN — Cam Thoroughman lifted his right arm as he stood on the court in the midst of West Virginia’s rather unusual 74-68 victory over Cincinnati, offering indisputable evidence of his claim of a foul.
His white, West Virginia basketball jersey had a large rip in it.
“Do you think,” he asked the official, “I did this to myself?”
The official just laughed.
The torn uniform was being worn by Thoroughman with all the pride of a Gold Medal curler, much as he wore the bruise he sustained when Cincinnati Yancy Gates, who may just be the most chiseled man in the entire Big East, took him and threw him to the floor in frustration, Thoroughman have harassed him much the way a mosquito harasses a camper.
At 6-feet-9 and 260 pounds, Gates has two inches and 20 pounds on Thoroughman, but the only way he could shake him the midst of game in which he grabbed zero rebounds was to send him crashing to the floor as the official tooted his whistle.
This was Thoroughman at his best, smaller, slower, probably less talented and simply driving the man he was playing crazy.
“I love it,” Thoroughman said of his ability to harass bigger, faster, better players.
It leads to bumps, to bruises, to rips and, yes, he admits to more than a couple of bloody noses, but when he’s on a Gates or a Luke Harangody of Notre Dame and they can’t get done what they want to do, he enjoys himself.
“I’m just glad he frustrates someone other than me,” said Coach Bob Huggins, jokingly, when Thoroughman’s style of play and opponents’ reaction to it was raised in his post-game press gathering, the first one he had held as a West Virginia coach beating his former team.
Let us first wonder how, in such a close game, Thoroughman even found himself on the court, for there is a major story there.
With 3 minutes and 12 seconds left in the first half and Cincinnati hitting almost everything it threw up at the basket, Steve Toyloy made an uncontested basket, taking the Bearcats’ lead to 13 points.
Huggins had had enough. Before the ball had gone through the net he had called for a timeout, uttering a few profanities as he screamed “Get me a new five.”
Banished to the purgatory of the bench were Kevin Jones, Casey Mitchell, Joe Mazzulla, Wellington Smith and Da’Sean Butler as Denis Kilicli, John Flowers, Devin Ebanks, Thoroughman and Truck Bryant, who had just come out of the game, scrambled over each other to report in.
“The only thing that came into my mind when he called for a new five was that I was trying to get into the game. I ran for the table,” said Bryant, who actually pushed Dalton Pepper out of his way in his haste.
“I used to do it all the time,” Huggins would later admit. “I just can’t stand people playing harder than us and we got beat twice in transition and we didn’t make a great effort to get back. If we kept the same group in and kept getting beat in transition, we’d be down 20 at the half. Those guys came in and played really hard and made some plays.”
They literally ignited the crowd, beginning with two free throws from Thoroughman, who would finish the half as the team’s leading scorer with 7 points. Thoroughman had not scored a point in his last seven games and possessed only 19 points all year.
Hearing that, do not laugh when you heard that he actually had been shooting the ball well in practice and, ironically, on the scout team he had played the role of Ibrahima Thomas. Thomas, who had hit only 5 3-point shots all year, hit two in the first half against WVU as the Bearcats, shooting .292 from 3 in conference games, hit 7 of 10 in the first half.
Inspired by Thoroughman, the second group scratched their way back into the game, leaving the halftime deficit at just 39-33, the 13-point lead cut in half.
It is difficult to imagine that on a team pushing for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Thoroughman can play a crucial role, especially from where he has come. In many ways, he is Huggins’ most admired player, although he never would come out and say that.
“He plays hard,” Huggins said. “When I first got here, he had just come back from that awful knee injury. He told me he was a guard. I looked at him and said, ‘That ain’t going to happen.’”
It is true that Thoroughman had been recruited as a guard but in “Huggins Vision” he would grow into a battler, a kid who would “stick his nose in there.”
And that is just what Thoroughman has done, right now until he finds himself in the final days of his career, about to graduate, nominated by the program as scholar-athlete in the Big East, but more important, ready to try bang his way through the Big East Tournament and deep into the NCAAs.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.