MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — The spark came from near disbelief, Derek Culver would admit later.
Hard to tell by West Virginia’s margin of victory Saturday during its 83-57 win against Nicholls State, but with 16:43 left in the game, it was tied at 43.
“Honestly, we weren’t playing up to our capabilities,” Culver said. “I credit Nicholls State. A team like that is persistent and you have to stay on them and make sure you play tight defense. They can run out and score quick.”
It was then Culver created a spark and the rest of his teammates followed suit.
That included fellow forward Oscar Tshiebwe, who combined with Culver to put up numbers that have been anxiously anticipated for a while.
The two power players were just too powerful against the smaller Colonels (5-5).
Culver went for 16 points and 16 rebounds, while Tshiebwe added 15 points and 11 rebounds.
It’s the first time both players recorded a double-double in the same game.
“Once I see Derek get going, it motivates me to start playing harder,” Tshiebwe said. “I think everyone started going harder.”
This type of domination from the duo was thought to be the norm back when the season first started.
Culver was coming off a freshman season in which he was named to the all-Big 12 Freshman team, while Tshiebwe became just the second high school McDonald’s All-American to sign at WVU (8-1).
Except Tshiebwe’s introduction to major college basketball proved to be a bigger step from his high school days, where he was bigger and better than everyone else.
And he had to learn to play within a system and learn plays and learn to share the paint with someone who was just as big and strong as he was.
“Our spacing was not very good in the beginning,” Tshiebwe said. “I didn’t know where I needed to be when Derek made a move. He wasn’t used to playing with me. We had to figure it out.”
Once the game was surprisingly tied — the Mountaineers were nearly a 20-point favorite coming in — Culver certainly figured some things out.
He grabbed an offensive rebound and powered his way through defenders to score before knocking down a jumper from the foul line.
That gave WVU a 47-43 lead it would not relinquish and then the rest of the gang began chipping in to turn it into a blowout.
“I tried my best, but it wasn’t just me,” Culver said. “My teammates played well and did a good job of getting me the ball. It was encouraging they got me involved and that makes you want to play harder for your teammates.”
Those teammates began to make plays, too. Sean McNeil hit a couple of 3-pointers and Brandon Knapper scored a tough basket in transition.
Tshiebwe added two impressive dunks.
“I feel like we both took our time on the moves that we wanted to make,” Culver said of he and Tshiebwe. “With that patience came opportunities to score.”
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers’ defense shut the door on Nicholls State, which was held to just five points over a seven minute stretch after the game was tied.
The Colonels were held to just 1 of 15 (6.7%) from 3-point range in the second half, which ended any thoughts of a comeback.
“Derek decided he was going to play,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “They did a good job. They were physical. When he gets tired of being fouled, he just separates people.”
The play in the post opened up things for WVU’s outside shooters. Miles McBride added 15 points and McNeil and Emmitt Matthews Jr. chipped in 10. Taz Sherman added eight.
Former WVU guard D’Angelo Hunter, who transferred to Nicholls State after the 2017-18 season, scored 14 points in his return to Morgantown to lead the Colonels.
WVU guard Jermaine Haley was held out of the game. Huggins simply called it a coach’s decision.