Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

NOTEBOOK: Sean McNeil misses Radford win with a lower-back injury

MORGANTOWN — A lower-back injury kept WVU guard Sean McNeil on the sidelines Saturday for the Mountaineers’ 67-51 victory against Radford.

The school listed the senior’s status as day-to-day. WVU’s next game is Wednesday against No. 17 Connecticut in the annual Big East/Big 12 Battle.

McNeil is averaging 12.0 points per game, while shooting 39.5% from the floor and 34.2% from 3-point range.

“I really have no idea,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said when asked of McNeil’s status. I haven’t talked to him. I have enough to do, trying to get these guys to play.”

In his place, Huggins went with freshman Kobe Johnson, who finished with two points and three rebounds in 20 minutes.

It was the first time McNeil missed a game since 2020, when he missed three games during Big 12 play as a sophomore. He had played in 44 consecutive games before Saturday.

Later in his press conference, Huggins didn’t single McNeil out, but was obviously disappointed in the toughness of his overall roster.

“The guys who play through things; I mean we’re all going to get hurt,” Huggins began. “How many guys have we had who played with sprained ankles?”

Huggins then told the story of how Da’Sean Butler once scored 43 against Villanova when it was thought he wouldn’t play because of a badly hurt ankle.

“That’s a guy with a big heart,” Huggins continued. “That’s a guy who doesn’t want to let his team down. Everybody gets hurts, man, and the guys who really love the game will play. I think Pauly (Paulicap) would play hurt, but from there, I really don’t have any idea.”

Both sides of the carpet

As a former WVU player, Darris Nichols took part in a number of pregame ceremonies inside the Coliseum, including running out on the carpet as a starter.

As Radford’s head coach, Nichols was forced to try and get some pregame instructions to his team while the Mountaineers went through their pregame routine, which includes the Mountaineer blasting his rifle.

“The big thing I told my guys is you have to be prepared for the musket,” Nichols said. “I remember, as a player, you’d see guys from the other team hitting the ground.

“I didn’t want that to startle our guys. We let them know ahead of time the Mountaineer was going to shoot the musket. I saw the Mountaineer standing (by Radford’s huddle), and I asked him if he could scoot over a little bit.”

News and notes

** Amy Bonner became the first female referee to officiate a game inside the WVU Coliseum for a men’s game.

Bonner became a Big 12 referee last season, but has also officiated Division I women’s basketball games, as well as mid-major games at the men’s level.

** Taz Sherman’s 27 points was his 10th career game at WVU with 20 or more points.

** Freshman forward James Okonkwo made his season debut against Radford. He played five minutes and scored two points and grabbed two rebounds.

Okonkwo injured his left foot in the preseason and was thought to be redshirting. He was rated a 4-star prospect and No. 87 overall in the nation for the 2023 class, but he earned his General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) while living in England and was able to enroll in college after completing his sophomore year at Beckley Prep last season.

Okonkwo turned 18 just after enrolling at WVU this fall.

“Why would we do that when things are the way they are today?” Huggins said when asked about redshirting Okonkwo. “The thing with James, we wanted to make sure his family was good with it, because he had the foot problem early. They were behind it.

“Other than that, there’s no sense redshirting anybody anymore. You redshirt a guy and bring him back and then he goes in the portal and leaves and plays somewhere else. That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

TWEET @bigjax3211