MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In the midst of a three-game skid that coincides with the start of conference play, West Virginia is looking for a player to step up.
The Mountaineers (10-5, 0-3 Big 12) have dealt with subpar shooting performances and some of the same issues that have stung them repeatedly, like turnovers and missed free throws. WVU made just 4 of 20 shot attempts from three-point range, and shot just 64.3 percent from the charity stripe in Saturday’s loss to No. 3 Kansas.
West Virginia was without starting point guard Kedrian Johnson in that game, as he was sidelined with a concussion. Filling in was veteran guard Joe Toussaint, who has played starter-like minutes off the bench for Bob Huggins this year. Toussaint scored eight points, dished five assists and grabbed four rebounds while playing a season-high 35 minutes.
He may have been unable to lead WVU to an upset victory, but he has volunteered to be the one that leads this team out of its current slump.
“I’m going to be strong for my guys,” said Toussaint. “It’s just a matter of me getting everybody on the same page with me.”
Toussaint is an experienced guard that plays at full speed and with max effort whenever he’s on the court. Hailing from Bronx, New York, he has many of the same qualities that Huggins’ top guards have had in the past.
Aggressiveness and grittiness are two of those calling cards.
“I’ve been a taker all my life. I’m gritty, you guys know where I’m from,” he said. “So, I got to be strong no matter what. No matter what the situation is, I got to be strong.”
The former Iowa Hawkeye is averaging 9.7 points and 3.1 assists per game this season.
Toussaint still believes West Virginia can be the team it appeared this group was through the nonconference portion of the schedule. In his mind, finding that next gear and taking that next step as a team will get the Mountaineers back to the level their 10-2 start had them playing.
“I feel like it is in our control, to be completely honest with you. It’s just a lack of effort, that’s all it is,” the guard said. “It’s just a lack of concentration, you know, wanting to do the dirty work. That’s all it is.”
Both the veteran Toussaint and the youthful James Okonkwo stated after Saturday’s loss that listening to Huggins, a Hall of Fame head coach with more than 920 wins on his resume, needs to be a top priority for all players on the roster.
He added that WVU needs to switch its mindset. Toussaint echoed something he said Huggins has told his team this year, saying the Big 12 is the toughest conference in the country and that, “nobody’s just going to give us the game. We got to go take it.”
For Toussaint, the turnaround for this team begins in the practice facility. While he’s not questioning the hours that players are already putting in at practice between games, he’s willing to be the driving force (literally) that keeps his teammates in the gym as often as possible.
“I probably just got to do a better job of just, you know, letting everybody know, ‘Hey, come on, let’s go. It’s time to go,'” said Toussaint. “I did that at my last school with one of my roommates. I would bring him to the gym with me all the time. I guess I just got to do it here, and I don’t have a problem doing that either. I have a car, I’ll go pick up everybody.”