By Dave Morrison
Da’Sean Butler is no doubt one of the top players in the Big East.
On stats alone (17.8 points per game, 6.2 rebounds, 80 assists, 47 threes) Butler is among the best. His scoring, assists and threes lead the team.
But he is also the heart and soul of the squad — the captain — and time and time again he has come up big for his team.
So Butler’s two misses on the front end of the a one-and-one late against Pitt still bother the senior, who is third all-time on the WVU scoring leaders list (behind only Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley) and is three double figure games from 100 for his career (a school record already).
That is why he is the undisputed leader. Because Butler won’t take failure lying down.
No. 8 West Virginia (19-5, 8-4 Big East) will try to bounce back from two-game losing streak tonight at Providence. The game at the Dunkin Donuts Center at Providence, R.I. tips off at 7 p.m. It will be televised live on Fox Pittsburgh (Ch. 28).
Bob Huggins isn’t fretting over the lack of success at the foul line. The Mountaineers were 18-of-32 at the free throw line in a loss to Villanova at the Coliseum last Monday and counting Butler’s two misses, WVU missed three front ends of one-and-ones down the stretch.
“We’ve shot a lot of free throws,” Huggins said. “We didn’t shoot a bunch of them early on because we were trying to get everything in, but over the break and since then we’ve had them make at least 50 and some days when we’ve had enough time, they’ve made 100.”
The Friars (12-13, 4-9) have lost their last five, the last a 92-81 shootout on the road at Villanova Saturday. Jamine Peterson and Sharaud Curry scored 19 points each for the Friars.
Peterson is fifth in the Big East in scoring averaging 18.9 points per game. The 6-foot-6 forward is also averaging 9.9 rebounds per game.
“I think he’s the most improved player in the league,” Huggins said. “I think he’s really good. He can shoot the three and he can drive to the basket. He rebounds it. He’s really athletic.”
Curry, a guard, is averaging 15.5 points and 3.4 assists . and 6-8 freshman forward Bilal Dixon is fourth in the Big East with an average of 2.08 blocks per game.
Providence is second in the conference in scoring, averaging 81.8 points per game, but ranks last in the conference in scoring defense (79.5 ppg.) and field-goal percentage defense (45.6 percent). The Friars also have one of the lowest shooting percentages in the conference at 42.7 percent, a fact Huggins said is predicated on style of play.
“The reason there are more points is there are more possessions,” the coach said. “They try to make you shoot it quick and they shoot it quick themselves. Any time you shorten the game and have fewer possessions it would stand to reason you’re going to have less points.”
The Friars also have one of the top offensive rebounding teams in the Big East, a major concern of the coach.
“They shoot a lot of threes and your percentage doesn’t have to be as high when you shoot as many threes as they do,” Huggins said. “They’re a very good transition team.”
After Butler, Kevin Jones is averaging 13.8 and 7.7 rebounds per game, Devin Ebanks (who had his fifth double-double of the season in the loss to Pitt Friday) 11.5 and 8.7 rebounds) and Truck Bryant 10.3 points. Wellington Smith, along with Butler and Jones, the only three Mountaineers to start all 24 games this season, is averaging six points
In a week that saw all four of the top Big East teams suffer losses, Villanova and Syracuse remained tied in first with 11-2 conference records. Pitt and West Virginia are tied for third with 8-4 marks, while Georgetown is fifth at 8-5. Louisville and Marquette follow with 7-5 records.
— E-mail: demorrison@