West Virginia men’s basketball has struggled to find points in its roster outside of Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil. In fact, the duo accounts for 47.7 percent of the team’s scoring as they are the only players that average double-digit scoring.
It was clear, then, that the Mountaineers would get a test against Radford Saturday when the team announced McNeil would miss the game with a lower back injury. Sherman stepped up, notching 27 points as he was en route to a career-high before taking the bench in the closing minutes. He was the only double-digit scorer in the 67-51 rout, and while nine other players scored a bucket, McNeil’s absence was felt as no other Mountaineer flashed any consistent offense.
McNeil came back for the UConn win on Wednesday and picked up right where he left off — he made WVU’s first two buckets on his first two attempts, and ended the contest with 16 points to tie his season-high.
Even though his absence was just one game, his hot start helped boost his morale.
“Whenever you see it go through, it gives you confidence,” McNeil said after the game. “It was good to see them go through, good to get the win.”
Looking at the box score, though, his return amplified the light support he and Sherman have in the points column. Jalen Bridges, who took over several games as a redshirt freshman in 2020, is the next-best scorer at 7.9 points per game — he has only one double-digit scoring game so far this season.
On the inside, starting forward Isaiah Cottrell has had a slow start since coming back to the roster from injury, and has seen inconsistent minutes this year. WVU’s leading scorer among the forwards is actually Gabe Osabuohien at 4.9 points per game, which can be a surprise, as the fifth-year senior has hardly been known for his offensive prowess.
There is hope among Bob Huggins and his staff, though.
“I think we’re getting better,” Huggins said. “I think when we started the season, we had no one who could score with their back to the basket. Pauly [Paulicap] has worked really hard and Pauly is very capable now of scoring with his back to the basket. He actually scored with his back to the basket against Connecticut and their bigs. So we have somebody now, I wish we had more.”
Paulicap has emerged as a fan favorite off the Mountaineer bench, likely for the exact reason Huggins described. His role on the team has grown tremendously, seeing his minutes spike from a 6.8 average in the first five games to 12.5 in the four games since. Against UConn, he played 19 minutes, scored five points and grabbed three rebounds.
With three games to go, though, the key is now to get new players like Paulicap ready for the grind of Big 12 season.
“From what I’ve watched, K-State is big, TCU is bigger than they’ve ever been with [Coach] Jamie [Dixon], I think. You look around, obviously Kansas is big. The team that’s not the biggest but they’re obviously the most athletic is Oklahoma State…so we’ll figure it out,” he said.