Over the season, Jamie Smalligan transformed himself from an exclusive three-point shooter into a player who could give Huggins a few valuable minutes of interior play, and although he will never be confused with past Mountaineers like Phil Collins or Darrell Pinckney, he certainly lived up to his coach's description of having "come a long way" since the start of the season.
Monday's Big East win over Pitt was an example of that, even though the affable senior didn't score a point on what now figures to be his last game appearance in the Coliseum. Instead, it was defense, and banging where Smalligan made his mark.
Squaring off against Pitt defensive lineman, er, power forward DeJuan Blair, Smalligan helped keep the Panther big man away from the hoop. On one early sequence, Smalligan swam over the top of a Blair post move and broke up a pass inside, and the move seemed to discourage the Panthers from going inside again. Blair finished the firsr half with five points and zero rebounds, and Smalligan had a big part in setting the tone for that performance.
The East Grand Rapids, Mich., native also had a couple plays that helped keep the ball alive for West Virginia, and which resulted in points for the Mountaineers. A first half dive to the court for a loose ball keyed a Darris Nichols-led fast break, while a second half tip of a missed shot set up West Virginia for another chance which resulted in another score. While he finished the game with one rebound, two assists and two steals, it was plays that didn't show up in the stats that truly measured Smalligan's contributions.
What is more impressive, however, is Smalligan's reactions to Senior Night and to West Virginia's fans. Despite catching some undeserved criticism, and calls for benching from many quarters, Smalligan still complimented the Mountaineer fanbase, and had some moving comments on his last trip down the carpet as well as his relationship with Huggins and his teammates.