West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who grew up in Port Washington, grew tired of a lack of commitment from his players in a season that has been sour since it began, so he sent them a message by giving a freshman walk-on his first start in a Big 12 road game.
The move didn’t last long, but Huggins is making it clear what happens when some athletes give effort and others don’t. Guard Taevon Horton started Saturday at Texas as a reward for being the only player in the gym before the start of practice.
Huggins has tinkered with his lineups and tried to coax more from an experienced but mistake-prone roster. Not much is working at the moment. The Mountaineers (8-6, 0-2 Big 12) have lost two straight as they prepare to play at Kansas State (10-4, 0-2) on Wednesday night.
"We need to win bad for a lot of reasons," Huggins said Tuesday.
Press Virginia is gone. The Mountaineers have committed far more turnovers than they have forced. They’re giving up the most points in the league and are next-to-last in scoring margin.
The graduation of the guard tandem of two-time league defensive player of the year Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. left a huge void and Huggins is still looking for someone who can consistently run the offense. James "Beetle" Bolden was looked upon at the start of the season as a main ballhandler but he’s been battling a hand injury and has had a bench role of late.
Huggins tells his players to make 100 free throws daily in practice, although he acknowledged he’s skeptical of the final count. He knows it doesn’t always translate over to games. The Mountaineers shot 56 percent from the line in a close loss to Texas Tech in their league opener last week.
From the field, West Virginia’s 42.4 shooting percentage is next-to-last in the Big 12, just ahead of Kansas State’s 42 percent.
"Unfortunately, we’re at a point in the season where we’ve got to kind of pick things up," freshman guard Jordan McCabe said.
Center Sagaba Konate has missed five straight games with a bum knee. With other starters performing inconsistently, Konate has been elevated to the team’s leading scorer at 13.6 points per game. There is no clear timetable for his return.
The bench has tried to help out. Forward Lamont West has four games of 20 points or more but went scoreless in the 61-54 loss at Texas . One bright spot lately is forward Derek Culver, who returned from a monthlong suspension to start the season by averaging 11 points in his four games.
"We have enough experienced guys," Huggins said. "Lately, seemingly the only one who has made plays down the stretch has been Derek."
It hasn’t been enough. And now West Virginia must get victories in bunches to earn a 10th NCAA Tournament appearance in Huggins’ 12 seasons.
"I think we’ve played the hardest that we’ve played all year the last couple of games," he said. "We’re right there. We just didn’t finish the way we needed to finish. This league is about a shot here and there, a free throw here and there, a call here and there. And if you get one of those, you got a great chance to win. If you don’t you’ve got a great chance to lose."
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25