The senior had among his best overall statistical lines of the season, finishing with 14 points to tie a team high while adding seven rebounds, five assists and two steals against zero turnovers in 18 minutes. Holton didn't start, being replaced by a surging Nathan Adrian in the line-up. But he entered at the 16:29 mark, getting a solid ovation, and immediately created a clear out underneath that allowed Elijah Macon to get to the foul line before taking his place at the top of the press on the resulting made free throws.
Though it shouldn't have been the main story - things like that are reserved for more imperative aspects like the final score and an overall scouting of team play - it's worth a look at Holton's performance. As expected, the forward again showcased a ton of energy, harassing TCU's inbounders and creating multiple deflections. What wasn't was Holton's ability to hit 6-of-8 shots from the floor while also staying out of foul trouble. He had just two in the game, despite again being indefatigable and playing with the steady dose of tenacity and ebullience that have become his trademark.
"It felt great to be back, to really have fun and have a lot of energy," said Holton, who noted that he watched WVU's games from his couch at home while suspended. "I'm not going to (lie), I had nerves running, but then I got out there and it felt good. I just wanted to play basketball again."
Holton was suspended indefinitely on Jan. 28 for a violation of team rules. WVU never specified what the violation was, head coach Bob Huggins saying only that he would have included that information in the initial release announcing the suspension had he wanted others to know. The initial assumption was approximately three games, but that became four when Holton missed Florida, Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas. No. 10 West Virginia split the games, losing at Florida and Kansas sandwiched around a pair of conference victories versus Iowa State and Baylor.
Holton said he had practiced the Thursday and Friday before the TCU game, and was able to regain much of his conditioning missed over the 13-day ordeal. He started quickly, hitting 4-of-5 shots in the first half - the lone miss a three-pointer from the corner - to score nine points, while adding three rebounds, three assists and two steals against zero turnovers. It wasn't a flawless statistical line, but it flirted in that realm.
"I thought (Adrian and Holton) really did a good job of making them play faster than they wanted," Huggins said.
West Virginia forced 26 turnovers - 7.2 more than their season average - while scoring an equal 26 points on the TCU miscues. It was the most turnovers forced by West Virginia in Big 12 play this season, and the most overall since Kennesaw State committed 31 in the seventh game of this season.
Holton was right in the thick of many of them, forcing the Horned Frogs to repeatedly attempt to throw over the press. That resulted in not only a series of deflections, but some outright interceptions by Jaysean Paige and Jevon Carter, who totalled four and three steals, respectively. In truth, TCU was as beneficial an opponent as Holton could have played in his initial game back. The Horned Frogs, now 11-14 overall, 2-10 in the conference, are flatly staring at another bottom two finish in the Big 12. TCU struggled on the boards, never properly diagnosed the press, and was generally manhandled at both ends.
The Frogs made Holton and the Mountaineers work in the stretches, but any occasional missteps weren't punished as they could have been against foes like Oklahoma and Kansas. Just once, toward the end of the first half, did Holton motion that he might be fatigued and needing a break. Otherwise, the upperclassman played what what seemed a full tank with plenty to spare as WVU, now 20-5, 9-3 in conference, competes for a Big 12 title down the stretch.
"I know I let Mountaineer Nation down," Holton said afterward. "I've really gotten humbled and have matured through this experience. I am happy that my coaches and my fans, my family, they had that support behind me and kept pushing me to keep going."null