MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia is finally on the board.
The Mountaineers earned their first Big 12 win on Wednesday in a gritty battle over TCU, bringing themselves out of last place and shaking a tiresome monkey from their backs. Bob Huggins was in a much better mood after the victory and had a lot of laudatory things to say about his players.
Here’s what the head coach had to say after the win:
On Jimmy Bell Jr.’s double-double…
WVU senior Jimmy Bell Jr. gave his team the edge they needed, winning the inside game for the Mountainers and logging 15 points with 12 rebounds.
“Jimmy was terrific, but you know, Jimmy is a guy who really cares,” Huggins said. “He’s a guy who works really hard. You know, when you think about a guy who came in here and lost the weight that he lost in order to be able to play, his skill level has gotten so much better.”
As a refresher, Bell said he lost about 75 pounds in the offseason, slimming down to a humble 285-pound frame. He had a similar matchup in TCU’s lineup in the form of Eddie Lampkin Jr., a 6-11, 263-pound forward who Bell said he competed against in AAU.
This game for Bell was about more than just winning, though. The forward said he received added motivation as he read text messages hyping up his opponent, giving him something to prove. Huggins also wanted Bell to prove something, and throughout this season, he has gotten positive feedback.
“His junior college coach told [assistant coach] Ronnie [Everhart], he said, ‘Tell Huggs I was wrong. I told him there’s no way he’d be able to score for you and look at what he’s doing,'” Huggins said. “Because he works. He’s a guy who puts time in and he really competes. He wants to be good.”
On the importance of this win…
Nobody wants to start the league slate with five straight losses, but the Mountaineers are far from out of the competition despite the slow start.
“I got them together after the Oklahoma game and I said, ‘Fellas, we’re going home for three of four, let’s go win. Let’s go win four. All of a sudden, we’re 4-5 and it looks a whole lot different,'” Huggins said.
Now they have one of those four and have surmounted a major bump in the campaign.
Of course, WVU was hardly blown out in its five losses. They remained well in NCAA Tournament contention with a ranking of No. 29 in the NET, so it’s clear that, at least according to the numbers, the Mountaineers are capable of competing with most teams in the country.
“We’ve had plenty of opportunities. We maybe could have been a whole lot better off than we are right now,” Huggins said. “Right now, I’ll settle for just winning one. It was good to win one.”
On WVU’s mentality…
WVU made it apparent right at tip-off that it was sick of taking these losses in the conference.
“I think they came out with an edge because we pretty much manhandled them in the first half,” Huggins said.
The Mountaineers quickly built a double-digit lead over the Horned Frogs, and stayed out in front by double digits for 23 minutes of the game.
In the second half, though, some of the same issues from previous games came back to haunt WVU as TCU managed to cut the game to a one-possession difference. Luckily for Huggins, his team leaders stepped up to prevent any thoughts of doom prevail as the Mountaineers held on for the win.
“They were good in the huddle. They were probably better than I was….Keddy [Johnson] has been great. He is, without question, our leader. He’s the guy that really runs the show, he was good,” Huggins said. “Joe [Toussaint] was good. I thought our bench was good. I think it was those guys, and the other guys get on board when they see those guys are still enthusiastic and talking about winning the game.”