Huggins's Motion Offense Pays Dividends in Lopsided Win

Christopher Hall

Morgantown, WV – The West Virginia Mountaineers shoot 50.7% (8-1) in handing Austin Peay (4-5) their biggest loss of the season, 84-53. This, after the Governors, gave an undefeated Arkansas team everything they could handle.

The Mountaineers worked the ball to Derek Culver at the high post and he quickly dished it to Jermaine Haley crashing in from the wing then whipped it to Emmitt Matthews Jr. slicing through the paint for a two-handed jam.

Then, Gabe Osabuohien showed he, too, can deliver some dimes with three of his five assists in the first half.

“We spent time on it because I thought we had a lot of blown opportunities in the games before that,” said Huggins. If you can raise people up, you ought to be able to score. And putting those guys in the high post. Particularly Derek because if they don’t guard him, he’s very capable and has in the past made shots from there. So, he’s a guy that you have to guard up there. Gabe, I think they're trying to figure out what he’s going to do up there. Then Huggins followed it up jokingly saying, “That will be tough cause I don’t think he knows what he’s going to do up there.”

Emmitt Matthews Jr. has been the most consistent Mountaineer, but had a tough afternoon in the “Garden” this past Saturday afternoon, going 3-9 from the field for six points. Nonetheless, he got going early and often, running the floor and crashing the offensive glass racking up 11 first-half points.

“He shot it really well, just in the first four or five games. Then, he kind of didn’t shoot it very well. Guys like him are much better with movement, much better. He can use his length and athleticism. He’s not the thickest, strongest guy. Guys like that need space, they need to be able to move. I thought it helped him a lot.”

However, West Virginia was only up one near the midway point of the first half before Sean McNeil provided a spark off the bench to lift the Mountaineers on an 11-2 run and taking a 23-13 lead at the 9:13 mark.

West Virginia built a 17-point lead at halftime and quickly went to work in the second half with back-to-back threes from Jordan McCabe and Matthews to go up 44-21.

Then, Oscar Tshiebwe blocked Pavle Djurisic, he gathered it, pushed it ahead to Haley and he floated an alley-oop to Matthews showing all phases of their game.

“I think, more importantly, we did the things that we worked on. We wanted movement. We get so stagnant sometimes and we wanted movement. I mean, that’s the first time that we’ve really ran any kind of motion offense. We were running sets trying to take advantage of our size before. And then we played a lot of people who basically just packed it back in there. We start making shots, then all of a sudden you got to come out and guard us and that opens things up… We still haven’t shot the ball the way we’re capable of shooting the ball.”

Emmitt had his first double-double on the season leading the Mountaineers with 16 points and 10 rebounds. “Emmitt’s making open shots again,” continued Huggins Taz made a few. He’s capable of making a whole lot more and Sean came in and I thought Sean gave us a big boost in the first half.”

The Mountaineers were running the floor, scoring in transition and spreading the defense out something they had been working on, but what was lost was the post presence they’ve had through the first seven games. However, Tshiebwe started running the floor in the second half getting him going, posting 12 points in the second half and ending the evening with his fourth double-double on the season with 14 authoritative points and 10 rebounds.

“He and Derek were both standing around. I think they both got frustrated, and Oscar got really active in the second half,” said Huggins. “We’ve been telling Oscar that his strength is that he runs. He runs better than any guy his size probably in the country, so why wouldn’t you take advantage of that? Then, we’ve worked this week on getting some movement in the offense. When we’re not stagnant, and when we move it, it makes guys like Oscar a lot better.”

Although the bigs were finding the open cutters, they weren’t being reciprocated by being fed the ball down in the post and Huggins felt they should have gotten more opportunities underneath.

“You can’t pass it when you’re dribbling it, and you particularly can’t pass it when you’re dribbling it around your waist or higher. It takes a while to go down and come back up,” said Huggins.

“I felt bad for (sophomore forward) Derek (Culver) and (freshman forward) Oscar (Tshiebwe) to a degree today because they’re in there posting, and the guys are leaning on them and grabbing them. After what they went through the other day, we’re like, (the guards are) going to get it to you, and (they) didn’t get it to them. We need to get it to them. When we finally threw it into Derek, he made two great passes for wide-open shots. I think we went 1-for-2 on them, but they can do some things down there. We have to reward them. That’s what I told those guys. I said, why don’t we do this? Why don’t we put you down here and have somebody stick their knee up your behind, try to root you to the corner, (then) take their arm and hook it over your shoulder. (They will) try to yank your shoulder around and get up underneath your armpit and hook you and try to pull you around. See how you guys like it. Then some guy will stand out there and dribble and not even look to pass it to you.”

West Virginia has shown they can win in a variety of ways and building upon the offense that’s had success by primarily bullying people with their front-court and in some ways they did that Thursday night. Most notably, out-rebounding Austin Peay 50-28, but they need to still be able to get the ball down on the post, along with the ability to spread teams out. 

Regardless, after a tough loss on the road last weekend, Huggins mentioned they weren’t “ready” for St John’s and they responded with a good week practice and it paid off with their largest victory of the season.

The Mountaineers have a quick turnaround as they host Nicholls State Saturday at 2:00 pm. 

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