After starting the season “carrying” the Mountaineers, as West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins describes it, sophomore forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. had found himself in a shooting slump for much of the conference schedule.
On Wednesday against Iowa State, Matthews got out of that slump, scoring in double figures for the first time in the conference season in a 76-61 Mountaineer victory. He put in 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting and 2-of-5 from three-point range.
“I’ve been making shots lately in practice,” Matthews said. “That’s really all I can say.”
It was the first time he has been in double figures since the Mountaineers hosted Nicholls on Dec. 14, 2019. The most points he had since then was eight against the Texas Longhorns on Jan. 20.
Matthews was a big name recruit coming out of high school. Hailing from Tacoma, Washington, Matthews originally committed to the University of Connecticut. However, a coaching change with the Huskies allowed the forward to open his recruitment up again, with WVU quickly took advantage.
Last season, Matthews burst onto the scene late in the year. After some roster changes, he was able to get more playing time and made the most of it, notably going off for 28 points in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals against the eventual national runner-up Texas Tech, a 79-74 upset win for the Mountaineers.
This season, he was expected to be a major factor in the rotation and was living up to the hype early. Matthews' season-high came against Pitt in the second game of the season, putting up 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting while going 3-of-6 from three.
When the Mountaineers traveled to Cancun, Mexico, Matthews was a major key in West Virginia winning two games and taking home the Cancun Challenge championship. In the first game against Northern Iowa, the Mountaineers trailed by one in the final minute before Matthews tipped in a miss by Taz Sherman that would eventually lead them to victory. In the championship game against Wichita State, Matthews was critical in the win, contributing 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting and 3-of-5 from three.
Conference season hasn’t gone the same way, however. Coming into Wednesday’s game against Iowa State, Matthews was averaging 3.6 points per game and 2.9 rebounds per game in conference play, all while shooting 33% from the floor and 18% from three. He has also only been on the floor for about 16 minutes per game, down from his season average of around 22.
“He’s been contributing all year,” senior guard Chase Harler said. “He just really hasn’t been scoring as much as he did in the first half of the season, but he’s still affected the game. We get caught up in the score sheet where the points are a little bit too much.”
Despite the lack of scoring in the conference schedule, Matthews has still been valuable with what he does everywhere else on the court.
“He’s still rebounding, still defending and still passing the ball,” Harler continued. “When he scores like that (against Iowa State) it definitely helps. I thought he was a little more aggressive tonight which we love to see so hopefully he continues to do that.”
The Mountaineers will go back on the road this Saturday when they take on the Oklahoma Sooners at 2 p.m. and will be nationally televised on ESPNU.