Gabe Osabuohien isn’t out for the glory. His stat line demonstrates this perfectly — he averages just 4.9 points and 4.8 rebounds per game, and he takes just a few shots every trip.
Without him, though, it’s safe to say West Virginia wouldn’t have taken down No. 15 UConn in regulation on Wednesday, or any number of opponents the Mountaineers have played over his three seasons in Morgantown.
WVU missed a majority of its free throws — 15 of them, to be exact — which was a tough sign heading into the closing minutes against the Huskies. UConn was forced to foul the Mountaineers to extend the game, and sent Taz Sherman to the charity stripe for a one-and-one with 21 seconds left. Sherman made the front end to put WVU up by two, but missed the second — that split-second while the ball came off the rim had Mountaineer fans holding their breath.
Osabuohien was the hero — he grabbed the rebound, took it out of the paint and dished it to the guards, allowing Sean McNeil to sink two more free throws to make it a two-possession game.
“Gabe’s rebound was the play of the game,” said McNeil.
“By far,” he said. “I mean, that play right there is going to show up on the stat sheet as an offensive rebound, but it’s way bigger than that. Like that offensive rebound…almost handed us that lead.”
Of course, the team’s performance at the free throw line can sting. Having players on the floor that perform like Osabuohien can soften that sting a little bit, though.
Bob Huggins had a feeling that his physical forward would have an impact going into this game. It turned out he was right — that game-sealing rebound from Osabuohien was the last of his team-high seven rebounds as WVU, which has struggled on the glass, hung with UConn on the boards all game.
“We thought we had an advantage. We thought that watching their game against Michigan State,” the coach said. “We thought Gabe could be an advantage down there just because of his girth.”
As unconventional as he may be, Osabuohien has become a stalwart for the Mountaineers — when he can stay out of foul trouble, of course. That’s not only a welcome sight to a fanbase that has grown accustomed to physical basketball, but a coach who seems to have tough teams.
“I’m not sure why, historically, my teams have been that way,” Huggins said. “They’ve been physical. It probably has some thing to do with the way we practice, and probably the type of people that we recruit.”