MORGANTOWN — Only one team in the Big 12 relied more on the 3-point shot for scoring than West Virginia did last season. Oklahoma made the NCAA tournament. The Mountaineers did not, and the team’s three best 3-point shooters will be somewhere else next season.
That might not be bad news for WVU, though.
“We hope we’ve got more guys who can bounce it in the lane and more guys who can make plays in the lane,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said Tuesday.
Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, who both transferred after the season, and Remi Dibo, who decided to return to France to play professionally, combined to make 187 3-point shots last season. They missed 285 others. WVU was No. 7 in the 10-team conference in field goal percentage — and No. 9 during conference play — and No. 5 in scoring.
Again and again during the 17-16 season that ended with a loss to Georgetown in the first round of the NIT, Huggins repeated that teams that get close to the basket most often attempt the highest number of easy shots.
He said those teams generally win much more than they lose.
The Mountaineers were quite the opposite of that and Huggins was just as likely to say that WVU didn’t have someone it could throw the ball to under the rim for an easy shot.
Of the five players Huggins signed to fill the roster, not one is a power forward or a center or the type of player point guard Juwan Staten can sling a bounce pass to on the block for an assist on a hook shot or a turnaround jumper.
Huggins still believes the Mountaineers will take more productive shots closer to the basket in the 2014-15 season.
“I’m happy with the people we were able to get at a late date,” he said
Huggins signed freshmen Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter, who’s already enrolled. Junior college transfers Tarik Phillip, Jaysean Paige and Billydee Williams came later.
The 6-foot-3 Miles and 6-2 Carter will be new shooters at the college level. The 6-2 Paige shot 36.8 and 44.6 percent from 3-point range in two junior college seasons, but took 200 more 2-point shots than 3s. The 6-6 Williams shot 44 and 40.5 percent from 3-point range, but took 230 more 2-point shots than 3-pointers. The 6-3 Phillip only played 18 games the past two seasons, but shot 38.6 percent from 3-point range with 126 more 2s than 3s.
Last season Harris attempted 207 2-point shots and 211 3-point shots, Henderson 130 and 125 and Dibo 64 and 136. Huggins believes the five incoming players will be better at getting to the basket and less dependent on the 3-pointer.
“I think all of them bring something different,” he said. “They’re all going to make an impact. Obviously we need some perimeter shooting and we recruited some guys we think are very capable, but we needed an increase in athleticism and I think certainly we’ve done that at different positions as well.”
The Mountaineers will welcome back 6-9 Devin Williams and 6-9 Brandon Watkins next season. Watkins did most of his limited work right around the rim, but still only made 45 percent of his shots. Williams averaged 8.5 points, but shot just 99 for 239 (41.4 percent) because he took a lot of jump shots and couldn’t consistently finish around the rim.
Huggins believes both will improve with more strength and experience, but he knows the offense will get a boost when 6-9 Elijah Macon and 6-7 Jonathan Holton are eligible. Both sat out last season.
Macon won’t stray far from the basket and Huggins hopes he can post up. Holton, who led all of junior college in rebounding in 2013 and can make 3-point shots, will be able to score close and coming from the outside in, similar to what Huggins wants to see from Williams.
“I think with Elijah and Jon we have some guys who can score with their backs to the basket,” Huggins said. “We didn’t score with our back to the basket. We were, to a large degree, limited to just a few guys who were able to bounce it a year ago. I think we’ll be able to bounce it and put more pressure on the defense.
“At the same time, we’ve got be able to make perimeter shots to kind of open it up to be able to bounce it. I think we can do that.”
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.