Morgantown, West Virginia – Down 19 points early in the second half at Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers stormed back with tough, gritty defense that changed the entire complexion of the game.
With Isaiah Cottrell injured for the season and Oscar Tshiebwe gone, West Virginia is no longer the dominant inside team that they were to start the year.
Now, the Mountaineers must embrace an identity of junkyard dogs and pesky defensive players that outwork their opponents.
Following the game, junior forward Derek Culver – who finished with 21 points and 19 rebounds – said, “I’ll go to war for those guys in that locker room and I know they’ll do the same for me.”
This a close-knit team that wants to win basketball games and prove that they are still among the best teams in the nation, even after losing two of their most talented front court players.
Junior transfer Kedrian Johnson exemplifies the spirit that can lead West Virginia far this season. He’s tough, pesky and doesn’t take a play off. Johnson’s 9 points (2-3 FG, 1-2 3PT), 5 assists and 3 rebounds were really the difference in a game that the Mountaineers desperately needed to win.
Whereas West Virginia was able to simply dump it down to Culver or Tshiebwe for easy scores at the beginning of the season, this group of Mountaineers will have to out-hustle and out-work their opponents.
Like their comeback win against Oklahoma State last night, most wins for the Mountaineers won’t be pretty, and they shouldn’t be. West Virginia should win ugly, hard-fought, chaotic games like they’ve won in the past during the Press Virginia era.
The West Virginia Mountaineers are not going to be the same team that we thought they were going to be at the beginning of the season, but this version – the version that scrapes and claws and fights to win games – is just as capable of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.