WVU basketball: Inbound plays not practiced a lot, but still work
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- John Flowers had just tasted his own medicine.
A short shot he hoped would be an easy basket was instead smacked out of bounds by Rutgers guard Mike Coburn, who is 7 inches the junior of West Virginia's 6-foot-7 shot-blocking Flowers.
The dead ball led to a timeout, and the Mountaineers were left to their own designs in the huddle to create another shot under the basket, which is a skill at which they're particularly good ... and have been good at for as long as Bob Huggins has been their coach.
So when play resumed at the RAC, guard Truck Bryant stood under the basket and smacked the ball and cued his teammates to start a play. Flowers, as he often does, weaved through some unsuspecting defenders and caught a pass from Bryant near the rim again.
And it was blocked again, this time by Dane Miller, who is Flowers' vertical equal. It was an illustration of just how difficult scoring has become for WVU these days.
Flowers is generally pretty good around the basket and this season shoots 56 percent when he's not shooting threes. Yet he couldn't put it in on two close looks on a Sunday where the Big East's second-best shot blocker blocked none.
But, hey, no matter because the ball went out of bounds again and WVU is really good at these out-of-bounds plays. The Mountaineers quickly gathered themselves and Bryant readied a pass and Flowers made his move.
Bryant instead zipped a pass to the left and past Rutgers' Jonathan Mitchell, who was worried about Flowers and lost track of Kevin Jones ... who was wide open in the corner for a 3-pointer, and a four-point lead late in the first half.
"Truck saw me the whole time and he saw Jonathan Mitchell had his back to me and wasn't paying attention to me," Jones said. "I snuck down to the corner out of his line of vision and Truck saw it happening the whole time."
That was one of four baskets WVU scored on inbound plays under the basket. The four plays were good for 10 points in a game the Mountaineers won 65-54. And to be fair to Flowers, he'd free himself later in the game for a layup and a free throw.
Watch WVU enough this season, or in the past when the team could do similar things with Darris Nichols and Joe Alexander or Devin Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler, and you'd get the idea the team works on this a lot.
In truth, the Mountaineers (18-10, 9-7 Big East) work on them "not very much," according to Huggins. They'll spend very little time on them before Wednesday's 7 p.m. game against No. 16 Connecticut (21-7, 9-7).
"The funny thing is that now that I think about it, we actually never work on inbound plays," Bryant said.
"We might do it one time in practice, but we really don't work on them. We do always score on them, though."
Much like they do in their halfcourt offense, the Mountaineers don't really call a lot of inbound plays.
It's based on one teammate's feel for another and isn't all that different from the motion offense WVU plays. If one person does this, his teammate is supposed to do that. If a defender goes this way, then the WVU player is to go that way.
There are certain rules to follow, and that's why Casey Mitchell sometimes ends up in the corner and why Flowers is often open and why Cam Thoroughman occasionally drifts deep into the backcourt to avoid a five-seconds violation.
Still, it's a lot of freelancing with the greatest responsibility resting in the passer's hands. Typically, it's Bryant or Joe Mazzulla, and they have to trust they're seeing what their teammates are seeing.
"What we do conceptually is pretty good," Huggins said. "You've got to teach the guys in the position they're in to make the right read. John's pretty good at making the read. Truck's been taking the ball out for three years. We were a whole lot better when Da'Sean was in there. Casey doesn't make reads nearly as well as Da'Sean did, but Kevin and John know what to do."
Mitchell manages, though, and even if he sometimes goofs it up, he also sometimes searches for his strength. Again and again this season, and again against Rutgers, Mitchell will float around a screen and pop open on the left side, where he takes and makes a bank shot.
Rarely, if ever, does he miss that.
"Probably not," he said. "I practice that a lot."
It's a pretty simple play where Mitchell turns a teammate into a screener and runs right to draw a defender and then dashes back left and leads the defender into the screen.
"Coach gets mad at us if we don't score on them," Mitchell said. "We take it upon ourselves to work on those shots on our own."
It's a necessity.
The three Jones made in the corner was the only one he made against Rutgers - and he's not making many others in regular situations. Mitchell's bank shot was the first basket in an 11-0 run that changed the game in Sunday's second half. WVU went from down three to up eight with that run that also included the three-point Flowers had on an inbound play.
Those were critical scores and scoring is critical now. WVU works really hard to get baskets and frequently comes up empty. The more the Mountaineers miss, the more they press on defense and the combination, as much as anything else, can explain the uneven first and second halves this season.
WVU has slipped to No. 12 in the 16-team Big East in shooting percentage (43.1) and No. 11 in scoring offense (69.9). The Mountaineers have scored 70 or more points just twice in the past 11 games, and not for lack of effort.
More and more now, they're slowing down on offense and relying on offensive rebounds and 79-second possessions. Sunday they played a 1-3-1 zone just to kill the clock. Any basket is a good one for WVU, but those easy ones are the best.
"Those help a lot," Mitchell said. "We don't get tired from running the offense. We don't have to fight for rebounds. If we get a quick hitter, it's great for us because then we can go down and defend with a little more energy and a little momentum."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.