MORGANTOWN — The way the West Virginia basketball team is constructed, you expect that it will win or lose depending upon the performance of their big three — Derek Culver, Oscar Tshiebwe and Deuce McBride.
That’s where the oomph is with the Mountaineers, or so you believe.
Culver and Tshiebwe gather in the rebounds, Culver does most of the inside scoring, McBride runs the show at the point and hits crucial shots throughout the game.
But the beauty of sports is when you turn on that television or buy that ticket, you really don’t know what’s going to happen.
That’s why the bookies make a profit.
But then there are days like Friday when all the plans Bob Huggins had laid out pregame for West Virginia as it won the championship game of the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Championship in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, had to be scrapped almost immediately.
The final score was 70-64 over Western Kentucky and it was every bit that close.
Less than three minutes into the game he had to put Tshiebwe on the bench with two fouls, protecting that big man for the stretch run when he was an important figure.
That, one would think, would turn the rebounding duties, upon which any Huggins’ teams relies so heavily, over to Culver.
So, what happens? Culver grabs one rebound.
Not one rebound while Tshiebwe was out of the game. One rebound all game.
Then, Sean McNeil, who has won the shooting guard spot, went 2 for 9 shooting, just 1 for 5 from 3-point range, which is his specialty, meaning Huggins had to make other adjustments.
But when you are a coach on the road to the Hall of Fame, you find a way to make them and, more importantly, you recruit players who will allow you to make such adjustments.
And so it was that he tinkered with the lineup, put together some strange combinations but got what he wanted out of it, especially from Taz Sherman and Gabe Osabuohien.
Sherman has become Huggins instant offense off the bench, a man who can make 3-point shots with a silky-smooth stroke and who also can take the ball to the hoop. Sherman scored 12 much-needed points, hitting 5 of 8 shots, 2 of 3 from 3-point range.
Sherman, of course, came in with the reputation of being a scorer, having come out of junior college as the fourth leading scorer in the nation, but he struggled last year as he adjusted to the huge leap into major college basketball.
He is now completely adjusted, as a 54.2 shooting percentage would indicate, which is dwarfed by his .636 percentage from 3-point range, hitting 7 of 11 shots so far this year. Last year, he shot 38.3 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3.
But it was Osabuohien who saved the bacon for West Virginia in this one.
A transfer from Arkansas, Osabuohien is often so challenging that opponents would rather try to spell his name than figure out his game.
He isn’t silky smooth like Sherman, but he’s a workaholic who does a little of this and a lot of that.
Derek Culver appreciates it, that is for certain.
“Gabe can do anything,” Culver said. “He is going to work hard. He’s first on the floor, last off. Hats off to Gabe. He really works.”
“He does all the dirty work, a lot of things that don’t pop up on the stat sheet,” Culver said.
And a lot that do.
In this game, Osabuohien played 23 minutes, scoring eight points, on 3 of 5 shooting and 2 of 4 from the free throw line, led WVU with 8 rebounds while also leading with 5 assists, many of them to Culver, tossed in a steal and a blocked shot, just for good measure.
Oh, and he’s really a defensive specialist, so any offense you get is gravy.
And don’t bet he wasn’t important in the second half helping to stop Western Kentucky’s back cuts that paralyzed the Mountaineer defense in the first half.
As the season goes along, Sherman and Osabuohien will grow in importance to the Mountaineers as players begin to wear down and when they get into league play where such items as defense and 3-point shots are what separate the top teams from the rest of the pack.
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