Three years ago, WVU basketball found a JuCo freshman averaging 18 points a game and earning conference player of the year honors. Needing guards for his new Press Virginia game plan, Bob Huggins swayed Tarik Phillip and brought him to Morgantown.
Now a senior, Tarik Phillip plays the fourth-most minutes on the roster for Huggins’ vaunted press, although coming off the bench. It’s not a typical role for a player of Phillip’s caliber, but he’s familiar, having excelled in it last season; great players tend to make adjustments for great coaches, too. His minutes have slightly increased this year, but his production is almost identical.
In 2015-16, Phillip scored 9.3 points per game, grabbed 2.5 rebounds and shot 40.9 percent from three. Through 25 games this year, his points average is the same at 9.3 a game. While his rebounding numbers improved to 2.8, his three point percentage dipped just below 40 percent. His shooting from deep has slightly decreased, but his field goal percentage has jumped from 41 to 44.
Phillip’s backcourt teammate off the bench last season won sixth man of the year in the Big 12, but it’s been his role to get the team going this year. With Jevon Carter, Dax Miles Jr., Teyvon Myers and James “Beetle” Bolden as of late, competition for minutes in the backcourt is fierce.
Phillip knows how to win over a guy like Huggins, though; he’s second on the team in steals with 42 on the year. Phillip has also blocked eight shots, a number that’s impressive when you look at his height in the program (he’s 6’3″).
It’s his ability to go and get a bucket that really makes Phillip an asset, though.
Of the eight Mountaineers that have taken at least 25 threes, Phillip is 3rd on the team, shooting 39 percent. The two players shooting better? Myers and Bolden; Phillip has connected on 25 threes, while Myers has taken only 25; Bolden’s made 19 of 38.
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Aside from stretching the floor, it’s obvious Phillip enjoys getting to the rack. Against Kansas State, the ‘Eers were up late but hadn’t scored on multiple possessions. Phillip, having enough of it, started attacking the rim, drawing fouls left and right.
On a night he struggled from the field (2-12), he drew four consecutive free throws to wake up his team. Phillip also contributed six assists, four rebounds and two steals to his seven points – a real stat sheet stuffer. He started due to some mid-season lineup shuffling and played a team-high 33 minutes.
The Mountaineers didn’t need the free throws he made to win the game – they were just icing on the cake if you will – but they were important. Phillip has shown time and again he’s not afraid of taking big shots, an attribute that’s unrivaled in college basketball. If he can elevate his game to an even higher level down the stretch, who knows the heights this team could reach?