West Virginia basketball using ‘next man up’ mantra

Next man up.

As cliché as it sounds, it’s become a battle cry for this West Virginia basketball team that has dealt with waves of adversity throughout the course of the season. Injuries, illness, departures and everything else in between have arisen at times this season and the Mountaineers simply have found a way.

Head coach Bob Huggins was asked after the departure of Oscar Tshiebwe at the turn of the New Year what the Mountaineers would do moving forward to replace his loss?

“What do we do going forward? We’re going to win more games,” he replied.

Turns out it was a bit prophetic. The Mountaineers have gone 7-3 during that time span including beating the first top ten ranked conference team since Villanova in 2010 and winning four consecutive Big 12 road games since joining the league in 2012. All of this despite three-games being postponed due to COVID-19 and the Mountaineers being forced to change their offensive identity.

West Virginia has completed reinvented itself on the offensive end and has been getting production across the board. Yes, you can count on sophomore Miles McBride and junior Derek Culver to produce almost nightly but the rest of the roster has picked up the slack. Four different players have scored at least 25-points during that span and set career highs in the process.

That was on display in Lubbock as well, when the Mountaineers were down emerging guard Taz Sherman to a calf injury sustained in practice. While he was listed as questionable, the senior guard never saw the floor. It didn’t matter, as the visitors still managed to win 82-71.

A big reason for that?

The contributions of junior guard Sean McNeil who was reinserted into the starting lineup and scored 26 points. He hit 8-11 from the floor and 5-7 from three over 36-minutes. It was exactly the type of performance that the Mountaineers needed if they wanted to knock off the No. 7 Red Raiders in their own building.

“Anytime he’s hitting his first couple shots, it’s going to be a long game for the guy guarding him. We see it every day in practice, when he’s playing with confidence like that,” McBride said.

For McNeil, seeing the ball go through the net was exactly what he needed to see. The junior guard dealt with finding his confidence at times during his first season out of junior college but has embraced his role in the new four-out style offense with more freedom.

It’s also allowed him to let the game come to him instead of forcing the issue. And it wasn’t just his shooting either, McNeil displayed the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. It was rather obvious that the second-year guard is becoming more comfortable on the floor.

“We’re trying to stay away from letting the ball stick. So I just wanted to get it moving tonight. Had a couple looks, knocked them down early and then kind of got in a flow from there,” he said.

With McBride on the bench for all but nine minutes in the first half, it was McNeil and several others that answered the call. Huggins called it a true team win and it’s hard to argue it wasn’t. The Mountaineers got contributions up and down the board.

All the while, those on the floor were only focused on what they could control.

“Sean stepped up and Jordan (McCabe) came in and played really well for us. A lot of guys just did what they needed to do and step up in their role. It’s huge,” McBride said.

McNeil is just the latest to step up when West Virginia needed in their 14-5 start to the season that has them in sole possession of second place in the Big 12. But there’s a lot of basketball left and there will have to be more performances like it from others.

“It’s just that next man up mentality. I was starting and things happened then I was not starting. Taz was having some issues so I step in and that’s just the mentality we’ve got to have,” McNeil said. “The guys in the locker room, they all want to play. We all love playing so that’s kind of how we’re looking at it.”

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