Matthews

WVU’s Emmitt Matthews Jr. looks to attack during a game against Kansas State earlier this season at the Coliseum.

MORGANTOWN — You can miss Emmitt Matthews Jr. on the basketball floor, especially when he’s missing.

That is sort of like double entendre, for we mean missing shots yes, but it also can be taken as just missing in action.

Matthews has had a habit of disappearing at times, which is mystifying because he has everything it takes to be a star … even a shooting star, to return to the double entendre mode.

As Kansas awaits Wednesday night’s sold out visit to the Coliseum that you can buy a ticket to on your couch through ESPN+ — which really ought to be called ESPN$ — WVU needs the Emmitt Matthews who his teammate Derek Culver describes thusly:

“He gives us a lot. He’s like a Swiss army knife. He’s tall – 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8. He can do one thing and then another … dribble, shoot, defend.”

He can rebound, too, although most of that his left to Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe.

If only he could find a way to bring it out of the locker room with him every night.

Again, listen to Culver:

“To be truthful with you, Emmitt only stops Emmitt,” he said after WVU’s last victory over Iowa State.

“If he has his mind ready and he’s ready to go, he can do anything. He has the tools to do anything on the basketball court.”

When he came to town from Seattle, Washington — and he must be feeling right at home with all the rain we’ve been having around here lately — Matthews was shy and timid. Not that he should have been, for he came with all the standard equipment and a lot of the upgrades.

Still, it took him a while to get in gear, but when he did toward the end of that first season, which was intimidatingly bad, he was dazzling.

He scored in double figures just once in his first 16 appearances and scored 0 or 2 points in 11 of them.

But starting on March 9 last year he scored 89 points in six games,  including a stunning performance against eventual NCAA runners-up Texas Tech in which he scored 28 on no less of a stage than the Big 12 Tournament.

Just for good measure, he grabbed eight rebounds, went 10-of-14 from the floor and 6-of-6 from the free throw line.

He put 2019 behind him by scoring 21 points against Coastal Carolina in a humbling upset loss in WVU’s final game in something called the CBI, a buy-in tournament for teams that apparently can’t get enough of losing.

That left everyone thirsting to see more of him this year, and when they tipped off the 2019-20 season he was ready to roll.

Matthews scored a combined 30 points in his first two games. He combined for 27 a while later in consecutive games against Wichita State and Rhode Island, and then put up 26 combined points in another pair of games against Austin Peay and Nicholls State.

“He carried us some early this year,” coach Bob Huggins said.

But then, after scoring 10 against Nicholls State, he went back into that same cocoon that enveloped him as a freshman. He played 11 consecutive games without reaching double figures, scoring just 12 baskets.

It wasn’t until Iowa State that he broke out, scoring 12 points.

“I thought he played really well until he had a breakaway and threw it away,” Huggins said after the game.

“He’s done a really good job getting into the gym and straightening out his shot, so he’s making shots. I think when you make shots, life’s better.”

Matthews was convinced he was ready to be back at the top of his game.

“I was trying to change my shot after a game where I missed a few instead of just staying with what had worked before,” Matthews explained of his slump. “I had made shots before, but in that one game I started missing shots, so I tried to change things. I should have stayed with the things that worked.

“The coaches can only do so much. At the end of the day, you have to play basketball. I’ve been making shots lately in practice. Everything is just coming back into motion.”

He went on the road to Oklahoma feeling it, but whatever he was doing right missed that flight, for in 19 minutes of action he made only 1-of-5, a 3-pointer.

It was part of an overall shooting collapse by the Mountaineers.

Now, though, they face No. 3 Kansas and No. 1 Baylor in consecutive games this week, and if they are to prove themselves an elite team, they need the good Emmitt Matthews Jr. to come out of that locker room for both of them.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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