By JIM ELLIOTT
MORGANTOWN - Alex Ruoff used to say there was nothing like coming off a Cam Thoroughman screen and taking an open shot.
Casey Mitchell chose WVU because he knew Alex Ruoff was leaving and those shots would be available, but did he have any idea how much easier those shots would be on the other side of Thoroughman?
"I'd rather come off Cam Thoroughman's screen than anybody else's on the court because he's going to screen. That's his job," Mitchell said after Saturday's 74-63 victory against Cleveland State at the WVU Coliseum. "But I mean, he wants to screen. A lot of players know the play's not going to them, they don't want to screen as if they were getting the ball, but he doesn't care who gets the ball, he's going to screen."
Thoroughman, a fifth-year senior who in back-to-back games has played 34 and 33 minutes, filled up the box score with his second consecutive game of five-plus assists (he had a career-high seven Saturday), six rebounds, nine points, and two steals against the Vikings.
On a team where not messing up is paramount, Thoroughman gets it.
"I've been here for four years, so I think I know what (West Virginia coach Bob Huggins) wants most of the time," Thoroughman said. "Here lately, I guess I've been doing the right things when I get out there so I keep playing. As long as I'm doing the right thing and he thinks so, I'm just gonna keep playing."
Both Kevin Jones (15 points, 10 rebounds), and John Flowers (10 points, 11 rebounds) produced double-doubles against the Vikings, but it was Thoroughman gaining all the attention.
Already graduated from WVU, Thoroughman stayed around to play this season and is working on a master's degree, meaning he's a man with some smarts. Still, those pale in comparison to his basketball IQ.
"I just understand the offense," he said. "I know where guys are going to be open and I try to read the defense. I try to think one pass ahead so when I get it, I try to think already what I'm going to do with it. I obviously try to get it to the guys who can score," adding that he understands that person is not him.
"Cam's been great," Huggins said. "I knew he'd give us minutes. I just didn't think he'd give us this many minutes. But I knew he'd give us good minutes."
Thoroughman is suddenly averaging 18 minutes per game this season, after playing roughly 6, 9, and 7 per game during his first three seasons.
"He works real hard," Mitchell said. "He might not have the best of skills, but he's smarter than a lot of us. He knows everything. He's been here for about five years, so he should know everything. He's just a great person to be out there on the floor with."
Brilliant Thoroughman passes helped the Mountaineers out of a lot of tough spots Saturday. They included an alley-oop pass to a wide open Jonnie West to put the Mountaineers up 36-30 late in a first half when Cleveland State (12-1), one of only a dozen unbeaten teams in the country coming in, just wouldn't go away. Then, later, Thoroughman passed off to Kevin Jones for a key 3-pointer to put the Mountaineers up six.
That came at the 6:45 mark, a little more than 2 minutes after the Vikings had tied it at 55-55 and began looking like serious upset candidates. The game had already featured seven ties and nine lead changes.
With Thoroughman on the floor the whole way, WVU outscored CSU 19-8 during the final 8 minutes.
Cole Norris led Cleveland State with 19 points and eight assists. Aaron Pogue added 14.