Culver play reason for optimism; Tshiewbe, McCabe cause for worry

West Virginia suffered its first loss of the season Saturday when the Mountaineers lost to St. John’s, 70-68, in Madison Square Garden in New York.

St. John’s (8-2) is the best team the Mountaineers (7-1) have played so far this year. St. John’s is a solid – not exceptional – team.

Like West Virginia.

The good was on display for WVU Saturday. For the second-straight game, Derek Culver was the Mountaineers best player. The sophomore forward had a double-double for the second game in a row, scoring 12 points and grabbing a game-high 18 rebounds. Culver is playing like he’s not ready to relinquish his spot as the best player on the team, a spot he took forcefully as a freshman last year.

Culver eventually fouled out, picking up his fifth foul on a controversial call as St. John’s Rasheed Dunn tried to drive for the go-ahead basket. Dunn hit the foul shots that turned a 68-all tie into a 70-68 Red Storm win.

The Mountaineers were stingy on defense, holding St. John’s to just 32.9 percent shooting. The Red Storm made up the difference by hitting 22-of-27 from the free throw line. WVU, by contrast, hit just 5-of-12 of its foul shots.

WVU coach Bob Huggins said he tried to warn his young team of the perils of playing on the road.

“I tried to explain to them that…you’re going to come (to New York) and not get the calls,” Huggins said. “We’ve never gotten the calls here. You’ve got to overcome it.”

The bad for WVU was also on display Saturday. The Mountaineers had a season-high 22 turnovers. Combine that with a free-throw disparity of 15 attempts, you’re not winning many road games against decent teams.

WVU got subpar performances from freshman Oscar Tshiewbe and sophomore Jordan McCabe. Again. Both started the contest, as they have every game this season. But neither finished nor was either much of a factor.

Tshiewbe has been a feast-and-famine player so far in his early career. Saturday was another on the “famine” side of the ledger. He played just 14 minutes as Huggins frustration with the freshman grew. When he’s on his game, Tshiewbe is the best player on the team and usually the floor.

But he’s about one-quarter of the way through his first season, and he hasn’t yet developed a consistent game. If West Virginia is going to be a player in the Big 12 Conference race, Tshiewbe needs to be contributing on an every-game basis.

Perhaps the more disturbing disappearing act is McCabe. If there was a team that McCabe should have thrived against, it was St. John’s and the Red Storm pressure. McCabe is one of the best ball handlers in the country. His game is made to break full-court pressure.

Yet, with the Mountaineers struggling with turnovers and facing the Red Strom press, McCabe played only 12 minutes. He had two turnovers and no points. Like Tshiewbe’s inconsistency, enough of the season has been played to become concerned. Is McCabe’s lack of production, and Huggins seeming lack of faith in him, becoming the rule rather than the exception?

Chase Harler saw as much playing time Saturday as McCabe.

As the holiday break approaching for students, the schedule lightens a bit over the next three weeks. WVU plays Austin Peay, Nicholls State and Youngstown State before a traveling to Columbus to face Ohio State – one of the best teams in the country.

It would do the Mountaineers a world of good if Tshiewbe and McCabe find their games by then.