MORGANTOWN — The Coliseum was filled with fans — 12,513 of them — and hope as a new era of West Virginia basketball was born, 5-star freshman Oscar Tshiebwe making his regular season debut in what would be 94-84 victory over Akron.
You could tell Tshiebwe was as hyped up as the fans who were eager to cast behind the memory of a 15-21 season. Introduced last in the Mountaineers’ starting lineup, he sprinted down the carpet as if he were involved in that much talked about race between him and Derek Culver.
But in the end neither Tshiebwe nor Culver would be much of a factor as the supporting cast headed by Emmitt Matthews Jr., Jermaine Haley, freshman Miles “Deuce” McBride and Taz Sherman took over the game at key moments. It took little more than a minute for Tshiebwe to put his name into the scoring column as he scored the first WVU points of the 2019-20 season on a lay up from Jordan McCabe, but this was not to be first half to Tshiebwe.
He played just 7;36 of the half as the freshman exuberance got the best of him and he committed 3 fouls.
But as Huggins had hope, there was more than enough of a supporting cast to allow the Mountaineers to take a 47-33 lead into the locker room.
And, surprisingly, the support didn’t come from the other big man, Derek Culver, who missed three slam dunks, made just two of eight shots and generally just couldn’t get untracked.
Instead it was Matthews Jr., Haley, freshman point guard McBride and Sherman, the junior college transfer who shot as advertised.
That group did most to turn an early 5-point Akron lead into a 16-point WVU lead.
Matthews led the way in the first half hitting 3 of 5 from 3-point range for 9 points.
Haley didn’t miss any of his three first-half field goal attempts as he added 8 points while McBride went 3 for 4 shooting for 6 points and Sherman hit two of three shots for six points.
Thing looked comfy for WVU but Akron came blasting out of the gate in the second half, that 14-point halftime lead narrowed to 6 in 4 minutes and 30 second.
That caught the Mountaineers’ attention and Matthews, Haley and Sherman went back to work, running off 11 straight points to create some breathing room again.
Haley scored 16 to tie Culver for high scorer, Mathew had 13, McBride 11 with 5 rebounds and 4 assists while Sherman hit for 8 points with a couple of assists.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel