Exhibition games are just that — exhibitions. They don’t count for a record, they don’t count for standings, or even NCAA Tournament seedings. Because of that, they can be easy to write off.
That’s not the case for West Virginia, and Emmitt Matthews is quick to remind why their preseason victory over Duquesne is important.
“We lost the first one last year. We won the first one this year, and obviously that’s big for us,” he said. “Last year coming off that loss, everybody kind of hung their heads and, you know, were just like, ‘What was that?’ Obviously we didn’t win the way we wanted to win, but we won the game.”
For reminders’ sake, the Mountaineers last year came off that exhibition loss to Penn State and, well, struggled throughout the season.
While the win was important by itself, there were some positives from the game as well — especially the performance of Bob Huggins’ newest additions. Oscar Tshiebwe led the way in both scoring and rebounding, recording a 17-point, 14-board double-double.
His first game in college was still an adjustment for him, though.
“College is just a different level,” Tshiebwe said. “This level, to play basketball, you’ve got to be ready to go.”
Both watching his play and looking at the stats sheet, it may be safe to say he was “ready to go,” but he insists that he has a lot to work on.
Sean McNeil also made a splash in his unofficial debut for the Mountaineers after making the jump from junior college to Division I.
“With this being the first game, to be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “I mean I’ve watched games, but to actually play in it is a whole different style, you know, you don’t know what to expect. So, I mean it was great to come in and be able to play and have this opportunity.”
Like Tshiebwe, McNeil didn’t seem to struggle in his first showing, chipping in 14 points and 4 rebounds in just 16 minutes of playing time.
One of the biggest positives of this game, though, had very little to do with basketball. The Mountaineers were able to earn their victory on Matthews’s 20th birthday, a nice little gift for the sophomore ahead of the season opener next week.
“That’s all I wanted,” he said.