After a three-game losing streak in which he was not playing particularly well himself, West Virginia big man Derek Culver found himself sitting on the bench to begin Tuesday night’s game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
In three-straight WVU losses to Oklahoma, Kansas and Baylor, Culver had averaged 4.3 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting only 6-of-23 from the field.
On Monday afternoon, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said the team was due for some changes after losing three in a row and the game Tuesday was when those changes came about. Culver starting on the bench was part of WVU’s plan to start the game with a smaller lineup. Culver sat while Jermaine Haley moved to forward and Taz Sherman and Miles McBride started in the backcourt.
Despite the shakeup, however, the Mountaineers struggled in the first half against the Cowboys. WVU trailed 33-28 at halftime and allowed OSU to shoot 61.9% from the floor.
Culver played five minutes in the first half, making one shot and grabbing one rebound. At halftime Huggins decided to ditch the smaller lineup and return to playing Culver together with fellow big man Oscar Tshiebwe. It was the familiar, bigger lineup that helped WVU win 65-47.
Culver scored four point and grabbed nine rebounds in the second half, but it was his defense that Huggins said made the biggest impact.
“You can’t underestimate what Derek did,” Huggins said postgame. “You’re talking about a 6-9, 200-and-whatever-he-is pound guy who can sit down and stay in front of people, make them shoot it over him. And then when he wants to be a shot blocker, he can block shots.
“I thought the first couple shots he blocked got their attention a little bit and they were a little less eager to drive it at the rim after that... The other thing is, they were getting more than one shot. When Derek got in there I think he rebounded everything.”
The Cowboys only scored 14 points and shot 16.7% (5-30) from the floor in the second half, a 45-percent drop from their first half numbers.
Whether Huggins returns to the big lineup in the team’s next game at TCU or keeps trying the small one does not matter to Culver. He said he is willing to do whatever, start or not start, as long as he can help the team win games.
“I don’t mind coming off the bench. I’m a team player first and foremost so if that’s what my teams needs, for me to come of the bench, then that’s what I’ll do,” Culver said. “I’d say [coming off the bench] kind of gives me a little edge, to see people out there playing and they don’t really get to see me play yet. So I get to kind of know what they do, their tendencies and stuff like that.”
Even without starting Tuesday, Culver still played 20 minutes in the game, right in line with his season average of 23.8. Culver said if he plays the same number of minutes, starting or not starting really does not make a difference.
“I feel like once you get in to the game and get flowing, you’re in the game,” Culver said. “You only can start or not start one time so it’s like, once you’re in the game you’re in there.”
Culver and the Mountaineers’ next game will come one the road against the TCU Horned Frogs on Saturday. Tipoff from Schollmaier Arena in Forth Worth, Texas, is set for 2 p.m. EST.