Though he might not have had the most impressive night in terms of looking at the stat sheet, guard Tarik Phillip was a key factor coming off the bench against the Dukes.
Phillip was a persistent nuisance on defense, putting pressure on JMU’s ball handlers whenever he got the chance. That’s been his trademark since coming to Morgantown, and he appears to be better than ever when it comes to affecting the game on defense.
On a team that prides itself on causing havoc on the defensive end of the floor, Phillip is the most disruptive player, and he brings seemingly unlimited energy to West Virginia's full court press and its half-court defense.
When things got stale for the Mountaineers, Phillip’s high intensity style of play was infectious. JMU made several runs to close the gap in this game, but West Virginia was able to answer every time, partly due to the efforts of Phillip.
Despite having a bad shooting night, Phillip found a way to make his presence felt on offense too, forcing the James Madison defense to collapse every he time he drove the lane, and chipping in four assists to aid a second straight high scoring effort for the Mountaineers.
Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles may have the more developed offensive games of West Virginia’s guard trio, but where Phillip really separates himself is with his ability to get into passing lanes, get a hand on the ball and keep opponents from calmly running their sets.
You could see the effect of the constant pressure as the game wore on, too. JMU showed signs of frustration on offense down the stretch, which carried over to defense where it picked up several ticky-tack fouls.
The Mountaineers were able to pull away in the last five minutes with a tried and true formula: Getting your offense going by stepping things up on defense. Phillip was a main reason West Virginia was able to do that, and finally put away a plucky James Madison team that could certainly challenge for an NCAA Tournament berth this season.
He may be coming off the bench for now, but Phillip is one of the most important player’s to West Virginia’s success moving forward. Of the nine steals the Mountaineers came away with tonight, Phillip was responsible for four.
It’s that kind of defensive effort that will be required for West Virginia to make another run in March this year, and Phillip looks like he’s going to be the key for this team on that end of the floor moving forward.