Newcomers, youngsters get first extended minutes of the season in WVU hoops win over Radford

Gold and Blue Nation

Huggins reveals thoughts on redshirting players: "Why would you do that the way things are today?"

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Newcomer Pauly Paulicap made a layup at the 15:40 mark in the second half Saturday, putting West Virginia up by 27 points against visiting Radford.

With the game in hand, Bob Huggins was able to empty his bench. He gave some players the opportunity to play more minutes than they had in any game so far this season, and gave one player his first in-game action as a Mountaineer.

West Virginia won the game, but Huggins sees a lot of room for growth in those young players.

“They got a long ways to go,” Huggins said after the 67-51 victory at the Coliseum.

He later asked, “Why wouldn’t they have (taken advantage of the playing opportunity)? I think they’re foolish not to. You get an opportunity, why wouldn’t you try to take advantage of it?”

The outcome of Saturday’s game was never in doubt once the second half got underway. The Paulicap layup that gave WVU a 27-point lead effectively put the game out of reach, if it was not already.

But Radford was able to gradually cut into the lead for the rest of the half.

West Virginia won by 16, behind 27 points from veteran guard Taz Sherman.

No other Mountaineer scored more than seven points.

“Obviously, we thought they could help us, but I knew it wasn’t now,” Huggins said of his young players. “It’s a big step. As I told them in there, we’ve got a huge step on Wednesday.”

Six different WVU players logged their most minutes played in a single game against the Highlanders.

Transfer guard Malik Curry, who’s becoming a key contributor off the bench for Huggins, played 28 minutes. He scored six points, grabbed three rebounds and dished out three assists.

Freshman guard Seth Wilson played 17 minutes, but scored just five points. Both Curry and Wilson struggled shooting, making just four of 17 combined attempts.

Freshman forward Jamel King played four minutes in his second appearance. He was scoreless, going 0-for-2 from the floor.

Sophomore forwards Seny N’diaye (7) and Taj Thweatt (5) both also logged their most minutes played this year.

Freshman forward James Okonkwo played five minutes and scored the first points of his career on a two-handed dunk that got the crowd buzzing again with under five minutes to go.

“He’s an extremely intelligent kid,” Huggins said of the Maidenhead, England native. “I think first and foremost, he’s very, very intelligent.”

With both King and Okonkwo getting playing time, neither young player will redshirt this season. Asked about that decision on Saturday, Huggins said he didn’t see a point in keeping them on the sidelines all year.

“Why would you do that the way things are today,” Huggins asked. “There’s no sense redshirting anybody anymore. Why? So you redshirt a guy, bring him back, and then he goes in the portal and leaves and goes and plays for somebody else. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

The future hall of famer added that Okonkwo had been dealing with a foot injury. Huggins said he checked with the young forward’s family before putting him on the floor Saturday.

“I just wanted to make sure his family was good with it, and they were behind it, being so far away,” he said.

Huggins has stated previously he’s looking for other players on the team to show the work ethic in practice that merits more playing time. He pointed at Paulicap as an example of a player who has worked hard and forced his way into the lineup in his first season with the program.

Huggins said he’s going to play the athletes that give his team the best chance to win, but as better competition and the Big 12 Conference slate looms, he’ll need some of the young players to follow Paulicap’s lead.

WVU hosts Connecticut Wednesday, a matchup that will pit the Mountaineers against an old Big East foe.

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