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Best Big-Game Performers

By John Antonik for
February 11, 2011 02:23 PM
I recently fired an email out to our department numbers cruncher and stat-man extraordinaire Mark Devault, whose website has box scores of every single men’s and women’s basketball game ever played at West Virginia University (a couple thousand and counting). You should do yourself a favor and check it out sometime.

Anyway, my email to Mark went something like this … Help!

What I was after was a list of the West Virginia players that have done well against ranked teams. I wanted to try and gauge which guys performed well when the spotlight was shining its brightest, and since West Virginia is the school that first introduced Mr. Clutch to the world, I thought it would be interesting to find out who some of the Mountaineers’ clutch players were through the years. Of course we all know Mr. Clutch was Mr. Clutch at WVU - Mr. Clutch of course being Jerry West, who averaged 24.8 points per game for his career and 26.4 points per game against nationally ranked teams.

To paraphrase what teammate Willie Akers once told me about Jerry, He would score 15 or 20 points against teams like VMI and Citadel and then he would put up 40 on Tennessee.

Now isn’t that what a Mr. Clutch is supposed to do?

Mark’s fine work has revealed several other instances where Mountaineer players have stepped up their games when everyone else was paying close attention.

Early 1950s center Harry “Moo” Moore was a 9-points-per-game scorer during his Mountaineer career, but he averaged 13.4 points per game against nationally ranked teams, including a 26-point performance against sixth-ranked NYU in the Garden in 1952.

West Virginia’s victory over NYU that year was the school’s first-ever against a ranked team.

Just like Jerry West, Rod Thorn could score against anybody – the good, the bad, and the in-between, Thorn averaging 21.8 points per game for his career and 24 points per game against ranked teams. He went for 32 against ninth-ranked Purdue in 1961, scored 29 against fifth-ranked Villanova in 1962, had 30 against ninth-ranked Kentucky in the 1962 KIT and put up 33 in his final collegiate appearance against ninth-ranked NYU in the 1963 NCAA East Regional consolation round.

Guard Buddy Quertinmont, who will give you a good deal right now on a Ford up in Point Marion, Pa., was another one of those guys who enjoyed running with the big dogs. A career 10 points-per-game scorer, Buddy boosted his average to 13.1 points in 10 career games against ranked teams, which in the mid-1960s when Buddy played actually only consisted of the top 10 because that’s all the AP ranked (the working press must have been pacing themselves back then!).

Buddy put a career-high 32 in the scorebook against sixth-ranked Duke in Durham on Feb. 6, 1965.

The late Larry “Deacon” Harris, whose promising career was cut short when he tragically died in an automobile accident on what is now I-79, played only 30 games during the 1971 and 1972 seasons, averaging 10.6 points per game. But in three games against ranked teams, Deacon averaged 15.7 points, including 26 on a 12-of-19 shooting performance at 14th-ranked Notre Dame on Feb. 20, 1971.

The flamboyant Lowes Moore, who signed his scholarship papers on an Eastern Airlines flight about to pull out of the Newark airport to take him to a high school all-star game (where he very likely would have signed with somebody else), averaged 15 points per game for his Mountaineer career.

Against ranked teams, however, that number ballooned to 17.6 points per game, including a career-high 40 at fifth-ranked Notre Dame during Moore’s sophomore season in 1978 that has to be considered one of the great individual scoring performances in school history. Lowes hit 12 field goals and was 16 of 17 from the free throw line against the Irish that night, while also grabbing a season-high eight rebounds.

The vertically challenged Tyrone Shaw, who is probably still pump-faking someone out of their shorts right now in the DC rec leagues, had outstanding games against John Chaney’s great Temple Owls teams of the late 1980s. Shaw had games of 18, 16, 17 and 21 points against Temple during his two-year Mountaineer career and averaged 14.1 points per game against ranked teams, a 2.2-points-per-game increase over his career average.

P.G. Greene also did well against college basketball’s top teams, exceeding his career 13.8 points-per-game average by 2.9 points against ranked teams. P.G. had 27 against eighth-ranked Temple on Feb. 8, 1994, he put up 22 on 10th-ranked UMass 12 days later, and he also had 25 on the 21st-ranked Minutemen as a junior in 1993. P.G. was one of those head scratchers, though, who at 6-8 could jump out of the gym, had soft hands and a deft shooting touch that seemingly had NBA written all over him. What happened is anyone’s guess?

With the exception of Darris Nichols, Da’Sean Butler has played more games against nationally ranked teams than anyone else in school history (41). And Butler also showed up against them, averaging 16.3 points per game – a 2.0 increase over his career 14.3-points-per-game average. Think about this - nearly a third of Da’Sean’s 146 career games at West Virginia were played against nationally ranked teams. Now that’s how you make a name for yourself.

Yet as well as these guys performed against the best college basketball had to offer, there were two players that stood above the rest. Both were New York City natives and both played for Gale Catlett.

Six-eleven center Gordon Malone was a mystery inside an enigma wrapped around a riddle, his all-too-brief 53 game college career plagued by suspensions and other difficulties. But when Gordon was on the floor and focused, he could play with anybody. Malone averaged 16.4 points and pulled down 6.7 rebounds in 11 career games against ranked teams, scoring double figures in all 11 of those games, including 25 against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome in 1996 in one of the worst beatings the Orange ever absorbed on their home floor.

Had he been able to fit in a little better and remained at WVU for the 1998 season, instead of leaving school early to enter the NBA draft, the Mountaineers might have had enough firepower to make a Final Four run instead of their season ending in the Sweet 16. Malone was that good.

Calvin Bowman didn’t have the off-the-court difficulties Malone had at WVU, but he also didn’t have the talent surrounding him that Malone did either.

Consequently, Bowman had to have great performances against the great teams to keep the Mountaineers in games. During his first season at WVU in 2000 after transferring from junior college, Bowman scored 17 and grabbed 12 rebounds against 16th-ranked Tennessee, put up 21 and eight against seventh-ranked Syracuse, and had 29 points and six rebounds against 22nd-ranked Connecticut.

His senior year in 2001 was even better. Bowman had 20 points and 13 boards against 11th-ranked Syracuse, put 26 and 12 on 16th-rated Seton Hall, had 21 and 10 against 14th-ranked Georgetown, posted 20 and 12 in the return game against Syracuse and had 19 points and 10 boards against 11th-ranked Boston College.

In 11 career games against ranked teams, Bowman’s worst performance was a 15-point, six-rebound effort against seventh-ranked Tennessee in 2001. Add it all up and Bowman averaged 20.4 points and 9.1 rebounds against ranked teams, compared to overall career averages of 14.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. That’s a difference of 5.5 points and 1.3 rebounds per game over his career totals.

And that’s pretty impressive.

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