Murray finished with seven points and 10 rebounds to go with a two blocks and a steal. But it was the non-statistical plays that most stood out. Murray, 6-10, 245 lbs., continually changed Marshall’s shots in the lane. Herd players had to release and float shots higher than they would have liked, and often had to twist and torque to get release points so shots would not be blocked. Murray’s length and sheer defensive athleticism inside was a fantastic compliment to Kilcli’s bullying, brutish offensive style and allowed the Mountaineers (3-3) to manage a 36-18 points in the paint edge.
“Aaric’s best game of the year,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “Some of the rebounds weren’t easy. He was very active.”
The center should vastly improve as he plays himself into game shape. There were times when Murray ran the floor well and capitalized on transition opportunities, cleaning up misses and dunking or hitting putbacks. There, too, were other times Murray lagged and didn’t hustle back as often as one would like. Twice Marshall scored inside when Murray jogged upcourt, and, as Murray himself has admitted, the transfer is still playing his way into shape.
One might wonder why, after a year out of basketball, that a player would need to play into shape. The answer is typically twofold: First, simple practice doesn’t always translate to game speed. Add in Murray’s broken right hand and his missed practice time last year and back problems over the summer and it’s an issue that has bled into the early parts of this season. Second, players as talented as Murray at times rely too much on that talent, and the junior is still steadily progressing in overall development.
His increased ability and more thorough overall play loom large as West Virginia faces 7-0 Virginia Tech this Saturday, then has games at Duquesne and against No. 3 Michigan in Brooklyn next weekend. WVU will need a defensive presence inside against all three teams, and someone to keep cleaning up the misses from outside, should the Mountaineers continue to shoot at their current putrid 23 percent (20 of 87) from three-point range.
“I think we’re getting better,” Huggins said. “I think guys are starting to understand their roles a little bit.”
Murray leads the team in field goal percentage (53.2 percent) on 25 of 47 shooting and has amassed a team-best 45 rebounds, 21 offensive. He averages 9.7 points and 7.5 boards per game. The numbers are even more impressive when one considers Murray has been in almost constant foul trouble, and averages just 22 minutes a game. Murray, one of four Mountaineers ejected from the Capital Classic for leaving the bench area during the late verbal altercation, must stay on the floor for increased minutes.
Part of that, again, is fatigue. Murray, like most players, doesn’t shuffle his feet as well or move laterally nearly as effectively when fatigued. He then often grabs, trying to use his lengthy arms. That doesn’t work as well as sliding the body over. Murray, too, tends to bend over slightly and drape his arms onto an opposing shooter instead of standing upright, leading to easy whistles against him.
Murray said he feels like he is only playing at about half the level he is capable of now, and expects to perform at a higher level on both ends as the season progresses. He noted it’s difficult to lead and play effectively when trying to catch his breath. But that’s happened less and less. Keep an eye on the center against Virginia Tech, and how he changes shots, runs the floor and, if possible, stays out of foul trouble. Until West Virginia begins to hit outside shots, how Murray and Kilicli go will likely also be how the Mountaineers go.