MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Either Derek Culver is some sort of psychic, just a little lucky or the young man knows what he’s talking about.
Maybe it’s a combination, but at some point during West Virginia’s 70-65 victory against a game Iowa State on Friday at the WVU Coliseum, Culver said he leaned over and told teammate Taz Sherman that Sherman would win the game for the eighth-ranked Mountaineers.
“I told him he was going to finish the game out for us,” said Culver, who had his fifth double-double of the season with 18 points and 12 rebounds. “He must have believed me.”
Must have, because with 19 seconds left and with the Mountaineers (7-1, 1-0 Big 12) desperately waiting for someone to make a play, it was Sherman who finally answered the call.
WVU led by one, 66-65, and Iowa State forward Tavon Johnson was attempting to inbounds the ball.
“I was counting down in my head; one, two, three, four,” Sherman said. “By the time I got to three, I said, ‘OK, he’s got to make this pass to get the ball in.’ I just broke on it.”
Sherman tipped the pass and the ball went off Iowa State guard Tyler Harris and out of bounds.
Moments later, Sherman was fouled and he nailed two more shots from the free-throw line and the Mountaineers had avoided the upset.
“Yeah, there was some pressure,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “Lose this game and we would have fallen out of the top 10, probably to the high teens somewhere. We still may, anyway.”
Sherman finished with 10 points and three rebounds, but was only 2 for 7 shooting from the field.
On this night, that was pretty good, because most of the rest of Sherman’s teammates couldn’t hit anything from the outside, either.
“If I miss a shot, it doesn’t really change my teammates’ positivity toward me,” Sherman said. “They always encourage me to keep shooting. Huggs is always telling me that. If you miss five in a row, just keep shooting and keep putting pressure on a defense, which could open up a lot of areas on the floor.”
This is what Sherman is known for. He can shoot. When they go in, he’s instant offense off the Mountaineers’ bench.
When the shots don’t go in, those inside the WVU program will tell you Sherman is more than just a shooter for the Mountaineers, that he means more to the program than just his scoring average.
He proved that Friday. His shots weren’t going in, but he went out and grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on it with 51 seconds left that gave WVU a 64-63 lead after trailing by as many as nine in the early minutes of the second half.
And then came one heck of a defensive moment in chasing down Harris and deflecting that pass just enough for it to touch the Iowa State guard before going out of bounds.
“When I tried to steal it, I ended up hitting the ball his way, or at least I tried to do that,” Sherman said. “I was just trying to make a play on the defensive end, since my offense wasn’t really there.”
WVU became the first home team to win a Big 12 Conference game this season, which is sort of newsworthy.
Still, this was an undersized Iowa State team with a star point guard and little else and probably had no business being in the game.
“We weren’t ready,” Huggins said. “I knew we weren’t ready during warm-ups.”
Did the Mountaineers look like a top 10 team? No, but that likely means less as WVU moves on to prepare for next week’s showdown against No. 5 Kansas.
The fact that WVU will also be in the top 10 for that game, the Mountaineers may have Sherman to thank.
Or maybe Culver, who was the one who predicted it to Sherman in the first place that he would be the hero.
“Taz is a different type of player,” Culver said. “He’s fast and strong and he can shoot the ball. With that being said, don’t be surprised if Taz is in the NBA one day, because he really has everything an NBA guard will have.”