Elijah Macon was coming off the best game of his career – a 17-point, 12-rebound performance against Texas Tech. Faced with the challenge of a towering Texas front line, Macon could have succumbed to the urge to see if his recent good play would stand up against the Longhorns. That can be a recipe for disaster, but Macon didn't push it.
Taking nary a bad shot, the junior hit them all – four from the field, and a pair from the line – on the way to ten points in the Mountaineers 77-62 win over Texas. Perhaps more importantly, he didn't have a turnover, which has been a bugaboo for him at times.
I didn't want to force shots that I knew would be there for me later in the game,” Macon said. “I knew I was going to have shots, so I didn’t want to force anything. I just want to work on getting better and keeping it going into the tournament time.
Macon's patient approach paid big dividends for WVU. After scoring just once in the first half, Macon took a pass from Nathan Adrian and made a nice move in the post which resulted in one of his signature bank shots, giving the Mountaineers a 53-38 lead. Then, after the Mountaineers saw that margin shrink to 11 points with just under five minutes to play, Macon snared a defensive rebound while being hacked by Texas' Andrew Jones. As he has done 17 times in his last 22 attempts, he stepped to the line to drain the resulting free throw. Then on the next possession, he streaked down the floor and took a perfect lob pass from Lamont West, turning it into a thunderous dunk to push the lead back to 15 and blunt any hopes of a 'Horn rally.
The player on the front end of that alley-oop also showed great restraint, which perhaps came in even more difficult circumstances. West had a half that few players ever experience, knocking down five of seven 3-point attempts on the way to 20 points in 12 minutes of court time in the first half. He rained shots from a favorite spot on the right wing, and even had the rare 4-point play when he knocked down a three while being fouled.
Given such success, most every player on the planet would throw up the fabled “heat check” shot – the measure to see just how far the hot hand extends. But West, a redshirt freshman, displayed restraint that most would not. He didn't force attempts, and in the second half didn't get impatient when heavier defensive pressure limited him to fewer good opportunities. He took just two attempts in the final half, making one, while displaying a high basketball IQ.
“Yeah,” was his succinct acknowledgment of a question about the temptation of the heat check. “I am not out there hunting shots, but once you hit a couple it feels like every time you are going to shoot it it's going to go in. That heat check shot can come with that.”
The fact that he didn't go that route, however, was just another positive sign in his continuing maturation as an offensive player. He still took the shots that were available, but didn't go overboard.
”That was me,” he said of the ability to stay within himself. “I don't want to just go out there and hunt shots. I want to go out there and play within the system. The shots will come. When I get the opportunity I will shoot it.”
By letting the game come to them, both Macon and West made maximum contributions to West Virginia's win. That's a lesson that should resonate across the Mountaineer roster.