WVU missed 21 of 25 three-pointers in the 80-69 loss to the Longhorns. That conversion percentage is right at 16, a number so absurdly low that one might assume the Mountaineers rarely reach into such depths of ineffectiveness. But just last season, in a win over Texas no less, West Virginia was actually worse, making just 15 percent from three-point range in the 57-53 victory in Austin. WVU connected on three of 20 shooting, part of a 19-for-62 effort (30.6 percent) from the floor overall. The difference in that game was advantages in rebounds, fewer turnovers and a five-point edge at the line.
West Virginia sank below the 16 percent mark two other times that season, in a split of nonconference games against VMI and Gonzaga. The Mountaineers hit 15.7 percent from three against VMI (three of 19) and a putrid 11.5 percent (three of 26) in the 84-50 blowout defeat in Spokane. Lest one believe this only occurs on teams that don't make NCAA Tournaments, the Mountaineers were below the Texas mark on four occasions during the 2011-12 season. Two of those came against Notre Dame in games just two weeks apart, the second of which saw WVU misfire on 10 of 11 for a paltry nine percent rate in a 71-44 road loss.
In fact, since head coach Bob Huggins assumed the reigns at the start of the 2007-08 season, West Virginia has shot worse than 16 percent from three point range 15 times, including five in the 2008 calendar year alone. Of those 15 games, WVU somehow won six, including games against Texas and Notre Dame, and it came close in a huge contest against Xavier in the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2008. The Mountaineers missed 10 of 11 from three – there's that 9.09 percent mark again – while the Musketeers made 11 of 19 (57.9 percent) in winning 79-75. That game was the very definition of shooting costing a contest; West Virginia actually had more offensive rebounds, fewer assists, more points from the foul line and a far better assist to turnover ratio while still losing.
Clearly, shooting such a low percentage remains a statistical anomaly. But perhaps not to the degree one assumed. On average, West Virginia under Huggins hits the mark little more than twice per season. And, because of the insistence upon solid rebounding and an ability to score inside, at times the Mountaineers even overcome the issue. Indeed, the 6-9 mark is far better than expected when shooting so poorly from outside, even if some of the wins came against the likes of Cleveland State and Coppin State. But, unlike in the 2008 season, when shooting routinely stung WVU, there is no Joe Alexander to provide punch from the paint. There isn't much physicality inside, and Devin Williams is likely never going to be a major leaper. Nathan Adrian, at 6-9, has some ability to get off the floor, as does Juwan Staten and Terry Henderson. But the latter two can't be relied upon to carry the inside scoring load, and Adrian is still primarily a perimeter-oriented player.
"We're 10-7 and we've suffered inside for 17 games," Huggins surmised. "We don't have anyone who can score.
It's an issue that will continue to affect this team the remainder of this season and perhaps beyond if Elijah Macon (6-9, 240 lbs.) and Brandon Watkins (6-9, 235 lbs.) can't add some bulk and begin to take some pressure off Williams. The sense is they will, and the additional of Jonathan Holton (6-7, 210lbs.) gives the Mountaineers yet another threat. It's not as though this season's team is completely inept in the post. Williams has developed some aspects to his game, and Henderson is noticeably more apt down low. But, perhaps more than most Huggins teams, this group will rely upon hitting shots if it's to overcome allowing some early games to slip away to reach the .500 mark and possibility of postseason.
"Did you ever go four for 25? It drains your energy," Huggins said. "We didn't make shots. If you make shots you play harder. We just couldn't make a shot. We could have gotten back in the game if we could have made a shot. We took makeable shots. For some reason, we started pump faking when we're open and dribbling into people when we're not. I don't understand the value in that. When you're four for 25, I'm not sure shooting inside the three would have made us any better. When it's short any time, it's going to be short probably all the time."
Henderson and Harris, especially, have struggled of late with the three. Henderson missed 29 of 39 and 23 of 30 at points this season, but seemed to hone back in by drilling four of six and five of seven against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, respectively, before missing five of six against Texas. The sophomore isn't shot hunting, and he's had mostly solid stat lines otherwise. But it is concerning that in 17 games this season, he's made just one or zero threes 11 times. Harris has remained more consistent, but has cooled over the last seven games, missing 34 of his last 45 threes (24 percent). His last three games show three-point shooting lines of 3-11, 1-6 and 0-7. The two guard is too good of a pure shooter to show those numbers, and that must pick up if WVU is to have any chance at an upset win at Kansas State this Saturday. The game begins a stretch in which the Mountaineers play three of four on the road, the latter two against No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 12 Baylor.
"There's a lot of thoughts," Harris said after the Texas loss. "Frustration. Wondering what's the answer for me, individually. What is the answer for us? How can I get myself back and get going? Because I'm tired of losing. The shots are on-line. They're just short. Sometimes we play crazy defense, then we don't move our feet. The answer is to have (the correct) mentality the whole game, but that's harder done than said."