WVU's Holton: South Beaching It

Jonathan Holton has threatened a more permanent emergence during multiple games this season. But the junior hasn’t been able to string multiple high-end performances together since West Virginia hit the Big 12 portion of the schedule.

The reasons are myriad, and it’s tempting to point only to what some consider the primary culprit in foul trouble. Holton averaged 23 minutes per game during the nonconference schedule, and logged outings with 32, 29, 29 and 28 minutes while playing at least half of the game eight times. Once conference play commenced, Holton averaged just 17 minutes until his 40-minute effort against TCU that resulted in 15 points (fourth-best on the season) on 50 percent shooting with eight rebounds and three blocks.

Head coach Bob Huggins noted Holton’s ability to stay out of foul trouble for the majority of the game before finally fouling out with 46.1 seconds to play in overtime. While acknowledging that Holton still needed to rebound the ball better, Huggins said the forward “played pretty well. He played a lot, which he hasn’t played much. Our pressure is so much better with him. Jon scored the ball early, so they were keying on him.”

The performance came one game after the Miami native fouled out in a season-low eight minutes in the blowout loss at Texas, and it showcased an aspect of Holton’s game that hasn’t often been on display. Holton controlled his body far better in the air against the Horned Frogs, hitting multiple twisting shots in the lane that required midair adjustment. He used the backboard effectively, he used his body to shield defenders from his shot, and his length combined with very good leaping ability helped him finish far better around the rim than he has in recent games.

“I got into a rhythm and came away with 15 points,” said Holton, who is averaging 10 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. “Guys were feeding me, and I got great post position. I set myself up, and Juwan penetrated and we got the easy ones. Any great point guard can dribble to the hole and lob it up, and I’m athletic enough to slash back and take it. I call it ‘South Beach,’ like what Dwyane Wade and LeBron James used to do. We definitely South Beached it out there. Those were highlights of the game. Devin Williams’ dunk, that got us some more spark.”

It’s worth keeping in mind that these alley-oops and dunks came against TCU, arguably the worst team in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs, now losers of 28 consecutive road games against Associated Press Top 25 teams dating to 1998, are 1-5 in the Big 12 after starting 13-0 – the longest winning streak in school history. The No. 18 Mountaineers (16-3, 4-2) snapped the baker’s dozen run with a 78-67 win in Ft. Worth to open conference play, and hung a season sweep of the series with the 86-85 overtime win on Saturday. The Frogs lack an exceptional big man (the 6-10, 225-pound Karvair Shepherd is a bit unhoned, and tallied just four points and four rebounds before fouling out vs WVU) which is quite unlike the Texas frontcourt that flummoxed and flat out dominated Holton and Williams on the interior.

So the question, then, is if Holton can build upon the most recent performance and continue to show the ability to score on the block with control and solid mid-shot choices and alterations. Kansas State, second in the conference at 12-8 overall, 5-2 in the Big 12, doesn’t have a consistent starter taller than the 6-7 Holton, though there are a pair of solid reserves with exceptional size. Thomas Gipson (6-7, 265 lbs.) leads the team with 14 blocks, and considerably more altered shots.

The Wildcats, though, rank second to last in the league in field goal percentage defense at 44.1 percent – ahead of only West Virginia’s 44.6 percent for opponent shooting. KSU, 9-2 at home this season, is also last in total rebounds and blocks, and eighth in turnover margin – meaning this could be another game in which Holton shines. After K-State, WVU returns home to face Texas Tech in a Noon game on Saturday. A three-game winning streak, then, would leave the Mountaineers at 18-3 overall, and 6-2 in the Big 12 entering February and the final 10 games of the regular season, an excellent position to compete for postseason seeding.

“It can get better, a lot better,” Holton said. “Patience is key. I just tried to stay poised and calm down a little bit (against TCU) and not let my emotions get the best of me. I’m happy I finished the plays.”

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