Contributors, Justin Jackson, Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: WVU rolls back clocks with ‘Press’ Virginia against Elon

Only fans of the original Star Wars trilogy will get this, but we’re rolling with it anyway: “It’s a trap!”

West Virginia threw around a few traps of its own during Thursday’s 87-68 victory against Elon at the TD Arena in the first round of the Charleston Classic.

Traps of the full-court variety. Traps that were filled with tenacity and reckless abandon. Traps that looked — at least for a moment — as if WVU head coach Bob Huggins had turned back the clock a few years and asked the Mountaineers to become “Press” Virginia again.

If you stepped away from your TV midway through the first half, you probably may have missed it, because this moment, while exciting, was not designed to last.

At least not right now.

West Virginia, and more to the point, WVU guards Kedrian Johnson and Malik Curry were already building a reputation for harassing opposing guards in the half-court.

Gabe Osabuohien has built a reputation over the past two seasons as being a difference maker on defense, but again in the half-court.

Dimon Carrigan is beginning to show WVU fans what kind of impact player he can be by blocking shots.

It was thought that was how the Mountaineers would be successful, by being the half-court harassers.

That was until the 7:13 mark of the first half. WVU had already made a difference with its defense, taking a slim 25-20 game and turning it into a 32-20 lead behind its half-court pressure.

Taz Sherman got a deflection that turned into a steal and then a transition dunk for freshman Kobe Johnson.

Johnson then pressured Elon’s Hunter Woods on the inbounds and came up with a loose ball that was finished off by Osabuohien’s lay-up.

Then came the full-court press. The 94 feet of hell, as once famously said by former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson.

Elon wasn’t ready for it and would have committed a 10-second violation if it hadn’t thrown the ball out of bounds on the first look.

Osabuohien ran and trapped in the defense, looking very much like an energetic Jonathan Holton back in the day, when he did the same things.

Johnson teamed up with fellow freshman Seth Wilson to become the wings of the trap, teaming up with Osabuohien.

Sean McNeil was sort of the center fielder and Dimon Carrigan was the safety.

And it was a thing of beauty, even if it the look didn’t last.

Elon’s next look saw the Phoenix get forced into taking a bad 3-point shot, but Elon grabbed the offensive rebound and missed a lay-up.

Then there were some fouls and the moment of the full-court press had faded into the warm and cozy South Carolina evening.

Maybe the press was thrown out there just to give Marquette head coach Shaka Smart something to think about.

The Mountaineers and Marquette will play in the tournament’s second round at 7 p.m. Friday.

By the time the press was put away, WVU’s lead was out to 38-25, and Elon cut into the lead — making it a seven-point game at the half — once the press was called off.

WVU’s defense was still as hard as a three-day biscuit to score against once the press was gone and the Mountaineers actually found out it’s not illegal to rebound the basketball (WVU came away 39-33 edge on the boards).

But, if this WVU team can somehow recreate “Press” Virginia or some sort of knock-off, all bets are off on the potential this season could have.

Freshmen like Johnson and Wilson could develop faster, Kedrian Johnson and Curry would become defensive stars known throughout the Big 12 and Osabuohien’s defensive resume would only grow into near-legendary status.

Will it happen? Maybe not to the same extent you saw back in 2017 and 2018, but there are signs Huggins is now taking a hard look at the full-court press with the Mountaineers.

It could end up being the best thing to happen to this season.

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