Typically, Beilein likes to save his timeouts for endgame situations, so when he does call one while his team is in possession of the ball before the final couple of minutes, it's usually because he views that possession as one that could have a big impact on the game. Whether it's in response to an enemy scoring run or called to set up a score that could put the Mountaineers up by more than one possession, there's a method to Beilein's use of his timeouts. And the offensive success rate in those situations couldn't be much higher.
Take, for example, some sequences in WVU's 71-66 win over the ACC's North Carolina State on Tuesday night. The first came at the 8:40 mark, just after the Wolfpack took its first lead of the game at 49-47. During a 30-seconde timeout, Beilein called a play that freed Alex Ruoff for a clutch three-pointer which put the Mountaineers back in front and began an exciting sequence of possessions where the lead went back and forth over the next six minutes.
The next came after State's Dennis Horner hit an open stickback to give the Wolfpack a four-point lead at the 4:08 mark. After WVU brought the ball into the frontcourt, Beilein signaled for a 30-second timeout and drew up a play for senior Frank Young, who promptly banked home a three to draw WVU within one.
The final one came at the 1:47 mark, and although it was out of a media timeout rather than a West Virginia stoppage, the result was the same. Alex Ruoff drove the lane and dished a beautiful wraparound feed to Rob Summers for a lay-up that put the Mountaineers ahead by four. Three timeouts, three West Virginia scores, and all with a different spin on them.
"I think that our kids understand what we are trying to do. It's not some magic formula," Beilein said of his squad's ability to maintain its composure and execute out of timeouts. "We have a great staff that does a pre-scout and then tries to scout during the game how they are playing us. The bottom line is that we have to make the shots. Al made a big one, and then he made a big drive."
Beilein also acknowledged that luck can play a factor, as it did on Young's uncalled banker.
"Frank's bank shot, that was a called play, and they sat on it, and it was probably a bad shot as far as taking it," he admitted. "I'm saying, ‘What are you doing,' (when the shot was taken), and the, ‘That's my boy' [after it went in]."
A bit surprisingly, Beilein also let out a bit of his approach to those situations. Normally the guarded head coach doesn't reveal a great deal about the ins and outs of his tactics and strategies, but he did acknowledge that there are certain sets that he reserves for those big moments.
"I can't say that we practice them unbelievably, but we have schemes in our offense that we save [for times like that]," he noted. "We'll use them during the season, but they are "quick hitters", that you can run with 15 seconds to go on the shot clock."
As can be seen, there's a great deal that goes into getting the right play called and executed in those whirlwind seconds of a timeout. The assistant coaches might make a suggestion to Beilein, who will pick the play call, make any substitutions (for example, he brought in Rob Summers on Ruoff's three to run the screen and roll that freed him) and then reiterate the important points of the set. All of this often takes place in the short span of a 30-second timeout, which makes the preparations the coaches and players have performed prior to the game all the more important.
Of course, that's only half the battle. Once the huddle is broken, the players have to execute the play, make appropriate adjustments according to what the defense is doing, and then make the correct decisions in order to get the optimum shot. Given all those variables, plus the fact that the offense will be facing a defense that has had time to set up, and perhaps change, it's something of a surprise that the Mountaineers are able to sustain such a high success rate in those situations. One of Beilein's key performers at those crucial times, however, boils it down to a simple explanation.
Said Darris Nichols, when questioned about WVU's success rate, "He just calls great plays, and guys hit their shots."
Could that be all there is to it? Whatever the reason, West Virginia has ridden a string of successful timeout conversions back to the Big Apple, and if it can continue the skein for two more games, has a good chance of bringing home a championship.