Unsung Performance

He's been a lightning rod for complaints throughout his career, following in the footsteps of other Mountaineers who, mostly unfairly, have been targeted more for shortcomings than praised for achievements. However, there's not much doubt that West Virginia would have come home a loser on Saturday had it not been for senior Truck Bryant.

Of course, WVU also couldn't have defeated USF without Kevin Jones, who turned in another "routine" double-double and made three huge plays down the stretch. It also likely wouldn't be on the verge of an NCAA tournament bid with one of its better defensive efforts of the season. But on a day in which points were as valuable as a SunPass on the Florida Toll Road system, Bryant's 12-12 performance from the free throw line many have been the biggest difference between victory and defeat.

The fact that Bryant drained his shots from the charity stripe isn't a huge surprise. He's been an excellent shooter from the line throughout his WVU career, and he excels at drawing fouls and getting to the line. He's gotten there 205 times this year, and has made 78.5% of his chances – the best mark on the team. He's a flopper of the first order, who draws calls that no other Mountaineer gets, and that's something that he doesn't get enough credit for. He's been to the line 81 more times than anyone else on the team (Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli are tied for second at 124 attempts). And today, when points were at a premium, he drained every one of his chances in a game that had big NCAA tournament implications.

Of course, free throws only get attention when they are missed, and that's something that West Virginia has done plenty of this year. It's had games where it struggled to reach the 50% mark as a team, and it's making just 66.7% of its tries all year. The one consistent, however, has been Bryant, and he came up huge from the line against the Bulls in the 50-44 win.

What made Bryant's show from 15 feet even more impressive was the fact that he clearly didn't have the range from the field. He had to force several off-balance shots against a tough USF defense, and didn't make a field goal until midway through the second half. He finished the game just 2-11 from the field, and both of those were shots from right at the rim. He also played the game without a rest, going the full 40 minutes against a Bull defense primed to take him out of the game. Stan Heath's club did that from the field, but couldn't keep Bryant from drawing fouls with a combination of ball fakes and moves combined with more than a dash of method acting. WVU needed each and every one of the resulting points that he converted from the line, as the game was in doubt until the final possession.

Consider, for a moment, if Bryant had missed just two of his attempts. While that would have been an outstanding performance, it would have meant the game could have played out very differently at the end. Instead of leading by two points in the final minutes, West Virginia might have been tied coming down the stretch, which may have allowed USF to play a bit differently on its final two possessions. With WVU struggling to score (only 16 points came from players not named Bryant and Jones, things could have gotten very sticky indeed.

Bryant also avoided the crucial mistakes that have often caused criticism. Despite handling the ball both on the perimeter and at the high post, he had just one turnover, and countered that with four steals and an assist, while also helping steady a WVU backcourt that certainly felt the pressure of the USF defense.

In the end, though, it was his free throws that made the difference. On a day in which WVU shot just 28.8% from the field, and managed just 15 field goals, Bryant outscored the entire USF team from the line by himself. Only three before in WVU history has West Virginia shot below 29% from the field and won – and there's not much doubt where the Mountaineers made up for that number. Without that stat, West Virginia would be facing a very uncertain NCAA future.

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