Jimmy Bell excels, but WVU defense takes a step back in loss against Xavier

Dec. 6—MORGANTOWN — Leaning up against a brick wall in the back hallways of the Cintas Center, WVU forward Jimmy Bell Jr. knew he was caught in that weird place between frustration and satisfaction.

Moments before, Bell had his best game of the season in what was a disappointing 84-74 loss against Xavier.

"It still hurts, no matter how you take it, " he said.

During the opening weeks of the season, the storyline fixated on Bell was his mammoth size and strength at 6-foot-10 and 285 pounds, and how he went through the process of losing 75 pounds over a summer just to get there.

That changed in one night in Cincinnati, as Bell's overall effort became the focal point of what was both right and wrong for the Mountaineers (6-2).

"I don't know, if you're a guard, should you stand there and wait for a 290-pound guy to run over and guard your guy for you ?" WVU head coach Bob Huggins asked. "Probably not."

That was part of the problem Xavier center Jack Nunge provided with his 7-foot body and outside shooting skills.

Bell was now forced to leave the paint and guard on the perimeter, switching up on smaller guys on pick-and-roll situations.

It would seem Bell, who began his career at St. Louis before going into the junior college ranks, was now in no man's land some 20 feet away from the basket, except that he wasn't.

"I've got really good feet, " Bell said. "When I was at St. Louis, I was guarding guys on the perimeter. I'm kind of used to guarding out there. I've guarded Obi Toppin (now with the New York Knicks) before.

"When I'm out on the perimeter, I don't really worry that much about getting beat. I use my strength and use my feet."

The issue for the Mountaineers came in those pick-and-roll situations, because Bell wasn't supposed to switch onto the guards, who then had driving lanes to the basket when WVU guards didn't recover in time.

"We spent three days working on the pick-and-roll, " Huggins said. "I thought we were doing a better job, but obviously we weren't."

Bell also had one of his best offensive games, finishing with 12 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting.

It was a long ways from a few weeks ago when Bell self-proclaimed himself as not being a good offensive player, but rather a guy who looked forward to doing the dirty work.

Against the Musketeers, Bell was suddenly one of the main reasons the Mountaineers were in the game to begin with.

"I was able to use my body to my advantage, " he said. "My teammates got me the ball in some good spots and I was able to keep my head above the rim to finish. I had a good night, because I was able to get to my spots."

Still, a sort of crack formed in the Mountaineers' plan of attack.

Huggins joked it would take getting better players to reach the defensive level needed to play with the top teams, except there is no trade deadline in college basketball.

WVU players talked about a lack of communication on the floor, as well as simply not having every player on the same page.

"You can tell your teammates a million things, but if he doesn't want to do it, he's not going to do it, " WVU forward Tre Mitchell said. "It's a matter of everybody buying in and everyone to be willing to sacrifice something for something else.

"I don't think we're far off from it, to be honest. It's something we've known about since the beginning. We just need to keep working on it."

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