WVU basketball: Senior's stats deceiving
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Cam Thoroughman attempted neither a shot nor a free throw in West Virginia's victory Saturday at then-No. 13 Georgetown. He had three turnovers and no assists. He played 22 minutes and, going by the box score, did more to hurt his team than to help it.
"That's not what we're about," said point guard Joe Mazzulla. "Numbers don't define us."
That's mostly true, but not completely. The Mountaineers are obsessed with wins and concerned only with the final score. How they get to the destination doesn't matter as long as it's the one they prefer, which makes Thoroughman a surprisingly indispensable part of the plan.
"Cam might not get a lot of stats, but he gets stats in our book," said shooting guard Casey Mitchell. "When he boxes their big man out and our guards come in and get the rebound, that's his stat. When he gets into a passing lane and they still pass it and one of our guys gets the ball, that's his stat."
When WVU needed to play its best basketball late in Saturday's game, Coach Bob Huggins didn't have what one might consider to be his best players on the floor. Mitchell was on the bench as part of an offense-defense platoon with John Flowers, who was being asked to guard and rebound on Georgetown's final possessions even though he had four fouls.
The lineup had juniors Kevin Jones and Darryl "Truck" Bryant and seniors Mazzulla, Flowers and Thoroughman. The lineup was WVU's most reliable in that particular situation.
"That's our five most-experienced guys on the team," said Thoroughman, the 6-foot-4 forward from Portsmouth, Ohio. "We said that in the huddle. We made it clear what the case was and what we had to do."
Georgetown committed four turnovers in its final four possessions and didn't even attempt a shot before heaving a desperation 3-pointer near the buzzer while trailing by the final score of 65-59. Thoroughman made two of the game's decisive plays. The first was a steal after the Hoyas called a timeout, WVU made its substitutions and those five players commenced their huddle.
"We knew they were going to switch everything at the end," Thoroughman. "Jason Clarke stared a hole through Austin Freeman, so I kind of figured they were going to go to Austin Freeman at the end of the game when the needed 3s."
One possession later the Mountaineers again guarded and switched everything and Thoroughman anticipated a pass that forced a tight fit into a small spot. Thoroughman harassed Clarke on the sideline and Clarke lost the ball out of bounds.
"That's a fifth-year senior play," Mazzulla said.
The Mountaineers (10-4, 2-2 Big East) didn't pick Georgetown apart late.
They missed three shots and didn't grab any offensive rebounds. Their only points in the final three minutes came on three free throws from Bryant and they were after Thoroughman's defensive contributions.
The Hoyas couldn't get anything to work, though, and part of that was WVU's refusal to give in on the road as they had in the final minutes of the previous two games - a loss to Marquette and a close win against DePaul.
"We huddled up before the plays started and we said that we can't make any stupid fouls or any stupid plays again," Jones said. "We needed that game and we wanted to show how much."
Thoroughman, who averages 2.4 points and 3.8 rebounds, fits in nicely and he's more of a Huggins player than most may realize. He rebounds, but also keeps his player from rebounding. He tries on defense, which has at times this season distinguished him from others, and finds a way to do two or three things every game to really bother the opponent.
Saturday he guarded his man in the post and forced a pair of traveling calls. Later, he simply stood still near half-court as Bryant dribbled by Clarke right into Thoroughman and sent Clarke flailing to the floor. Thoroughman's bench enjoyed that as much as Georgetown's bench couldn't believe Thoroughman wasn't called for a foul.
"Every team needs a player like Cam," Mitchell said. "He doesn't care how many points he scores, how many minutes he plays, how many rebounds he gets. He just wants to be out there to help us."
It's a valued ability for WVU, which has won two in a row after losing two in a row and Thursday plays host to Providence (11-6, 0-4) to begin a stretch where three of four games are at home. The Mountaineers admit they were not having fun when they were down and needed to return to what made them successful last season.
Players are trying to embrace roles and focus simply on how they contribute to victories that, more often than not, will be decided by modest margins and shaped by things Thoroughman can contribute.
"The way we play defense and the way we rebound, Coach tells us there aren't many games we're not going to be in, so we've got to be mentally tougher," he said. "What it comes down to at the end is we've got to do what we do better than they do what they do."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.