MORGANTOWN — The last thing any member of the West Virginia men’s basketball team would believe about Texas guard Matt Coleman III is that he’s a nice guy.
Not after Coleman busted a step-back 3-pointer in the final minute to seal the Longhorns’ 61-54 win over the Mountaineers in Austin, last month.
The Mountaineers (10-13, 2-8 Big 12) will host the rematch with Texas (13-10, 5-5), at 8 p.m. Saturday, at the WVU Coliseum.
“He is nice,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said during Big 12 media day. He’s too nice.”
As his teammates grew to know Coleman as a freshman last season, it prompted the saying: More salt than sugar.
“It means being able to be 100 percent honest with my teammates. If I see somebody out of line on or off the court, I have to let them know,” Coleman said. “I’m a nice guy. I like to be liked by everybody, so it was hard for me to hold other people accountable every day consistently.”
Coleman’s freshman season saw him thrust into Texas’ starting point guard in a league that also featured Oklahoma’s Trae Young, West Virginia’s Jevon Carter and Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans at the same position. He averaged 10.2 points and 4.1 assists per game.
“The Big 12 was a Murders’ Row at point guard last year,” Smart said. “There were games were he got out-experienced by someone like Jevon Carter, but he did a really good job of bouncing back. There was one game he outplayed Trae Young after getting outplayed by Keenan Evans. He had his ups and downs, which our team was the same way.”
A season later, Coleman’s 3-point shooting has improved, which he displayed in the first game against the Mountaineers.
He’s averaging 10.3 points and 3.5 assists and still striving to find a level of consistency Smart expects of him.
“The biggest thing we talked about was playing each game with a sense of humility and being able to approach every game the same way,” Coleman said. “At times, that was hard last year. At times, you’d get up for certain games more than others. I learned every game is a battle, but you have to find some consistency.”
In Wednesday’s 84-72 victory against Baylor, Coleman flashed his potential with 18 points and six assists.
In three games in late January against TCU, Georgia and Kansas, Coleman combined for 13 points and six assists.
Too much sugar in those games? Easy to think that, but Smart went another way.
“I don’t think it means changing personality,” he said. “I think it means being extremely intolerant of the things that go against what you want. If somebody came out with a knife in the parking lot and was going to slash your tires, you’re not going to allow that to happen. Matt is a leader, so he can’t allow someone to slash our tires on the court.”
In other words, it doesn’t always work to be the nice guy.
“He’s too accepting of guys doing things that go against winning,” Smart said. “He’s gotten better at that, but he’s not all the way there, yet. Anything that goes against winning, it’s not good to be nice to that.”
And so both Texas and West Virginia will enter Saturday’s game asking the same question: Will it be a salty or sugary Coleman leading the Longhorns?
“My coaches and teammates have always told me that I can do it, but I have to go out and do it every night,” Coleman said. “I’m still a nice guy, but I can add the salt when needed.”