Compared to the lines of John Flowers ( 24 points, six rebounds) and Kevin Jones (19 points, 13 rebunds), the numbers recorded by Dan Jennings didn't stand out. The sophomore had four points and five rebounds in 12 minutes of action, so casual observers of the box score might think he was just a mop-up contributor to the win. However, that couldn't be further from the truth, as Jennings parlayed his second start of the season into an effort that provides some promise for the future.
Jennings, who has been hampered by an injury for the past 2-3 weeks, earned his second starting nod of the season, and made several strong plays to help get the Mountaineers off and running.
"My groin was hurt pretty bad, but it's about 90% now," he said after WVU's 93-63 win. "I've been trying to get back in game shape the past couple weeks of practice. This week, I had some great practices, and that's when I found out I was going to start. I am moving better and I have been playing with a lot of energy."
"Energy" was a watchword for Jennings as he described his play and role on this year's West Virginia team. With great athletic ability and the strength to fend off opposing big men, he has the tools to get rebounds, score on the occasional second chance ball or dunk -- and get his team energized in the process.
"It felt really good to go in there and get the start and get a rebound right off," Jennings said. "I'm an energy player. That helps get the crowd and the team into it. And as long as we have that, and get that enthusiasm going, I think it's going to spread."
A noticeable lack of emotion and competitive fire had marked this Mountaineer team in the early stages of the season. Flowers has taken steps to address that issue, and Jennings certainly contributed to the fix with his enthusiastic play against the Friars. His five rebounds and three blocks were much more than just cosmetic additions to the box score, and he may have helped teammate Deniz Kilicli as well. Kilicli has been plagued by early-game turnovers and fouls, so the chance to sit and watch the opening minutes of the game may have given him the chance to get into things mentally. When Kilicli entered, he seemed more at ease with the flow of the game, and wound up with 14 points and six rebounds (including five on offense) and had just one turnover in 18 minutes of action.
While no one would term Jennings' performance of the breakout variety, it did offer some signs that he will be able to contribute solid play as WVU enters the heart of the Big East schedule in late January and February.
"I am starting to get more experience," he noted. "As long as I can bring the energy, I think I can [help]. As long as I continue to play hard, I think I will get minutes. I am an athletic big man and I know how to get to the ball."
Another key for Jennings is to be more consistent in running West Virginia's offense. Mistakes in assignments have cost him playing time earlier this year, but against Providence, he showed signs of improvement there as well. He got to the right spots against the Friar press, and while every trip wasn't perfect, he showed the improvement that coaches have been waiting for.
The key for Jennings will be to continue this against tougher competition -- especially those teams with better front lines than the Friars put on the court. If he can get a couple of hoops per game, grab rebounds and block or change shots, West Virginia will be in a better position to challenge for an upper tier spot in the league.