Truck Gets Out of Neutral
MORGANTOWN – No one evokes a better set of puns than a productive guy named Truck.
Stuck in neutral during a prolonged slump that had seen him score in double figures only once in the previous eight games, hit more than four field goals in a dozen games, and had the smile sapped from his face as if it was held back by a restrictor plate, West Virginia’s Darryl “Truck” Bryant erupted for 20 second-half points Saturday as the Mountaineers beat a Top-10 team at home for the second time this season.
“Anyone get the license plate on that ?,” Notre Dame’s seven-game winning streak was asking afterward.
OK, well when the Mountaineers needed him most, Truck was on fire, and he came to the rescue.
Even West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, consciously or subconsciously, got into the act.
“He got step-in shots,” Huggins said of Bryant. “And step-in shots are the easiest shots to make. It’s like they’re like driveway shots.”
Trucks love driveways.
Anyway, held to four free throws and nothing on his four first-half shot attempts, Bryant was 5-for-6 from the floor in the second half, including four 3-pointers, as he broke out of a slump that lasted so long, Huggins couldn’t even recall when it began.
“It was his best game in a long time,” Huggins said. “I can’t remember what happened earlier in the year, but it was certainly his best game in a long time.
“Not just that he made shots, I thought his decision making was better.”
About that shooting. Both Kevin Jones and Bryant had been spending extra time before and after practice, trying to fix their broken shots.
“I told him what I told everyone else,” Huggins said. “Working hard doesn’t guarantee success, but it gives you a heckuva lot better chance. You’ve got to get in and shoot the ball. We all get tired of watching misses. (The players) get tired of watching it as much as we do. But you have to keep shooting it until you get back in that groove. I think the more you shoot it, the better your chances are that you’re going to shoot it well.”
Truck had backfired on two-thirds of his shot attempts all season, including a 21 of 93 (23 percent) hack job during his previous 12 games.
“They told me to just keep a smile on my face,” Bryant said. “I’m not going to say I haven’t been happy, but I haven’t been playing like I wanted to play. I just been stressing it a lot. I really just tried to forget about it, and I really just tried to play my game in the second half. I came out and started making shots – finally.”
And the smile returned.
“It’s been a while,” he said. “It’s been rough. I’m ready to start playing to my potential.”
Joe Mazzulla, who shares the point-guard duties with Bryant, said the whole deal was a problem from the neck up. No need to mess with mechanics.
“He just played with confidence,” Mazzulla said. “Once you make that first one, it gets easier. Credit Truck, he didn’t take any ill-advised shots and we also got him into positions where he could step in and shoot it.”
Turns out teams, like trucks, work better when the missing parts return.
“Obviously, we played with a great deal of enthusiasm the whole game,” Huggins said. “That’s probably as hard as we’ve played, probably since the Purdue game, for 40 minutes. I think pretty much everybody we put in played really hard.”
Just like Bryant said. Finally.
Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com