Another piece has been added to West Virginia’s puzzle.
During his first back game since he was ruled ineligible for game competition for the first half of the regular season for not meeting NCAA eligibility requirements, junior forward Esa Ahmad showed little rust and scored 18 points off the bench to go along with six rebounds during No.2 West Virginia’s 72-71 loss to No. 8 Texas Tech.
“Esa played well,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said. “For not playing for 16 games, I thought he played well.”
For Ahmad, Saturday afternoon’s contest served him well, except for the result.
“I felt good,” Ahmad said. “I would’ve felt better if we got the win.”
Ahmad’s performance during his season debut may have turned heads considering he hasn’t played for half the season, but Huggins sees more potential in the junior’s scoring abilities. As a result of his length, 6-foot-8 height and overall size, Ahmad isn’t likely to draw fouls when he drives in the paint.
The Cleveland native shot 4-of-7 from the free throw line and West Virginia overall finished just 14-of-19 from the line to Texas Tech’s 24-of-28 during Saturday’s loss.
“I thought he could’ve scored more,” Huggins said. “He’s a 6’8 small forward. He goes to the rim, I don’t think he gets the benefit that other people get because of his strength. I thought he very easily could’ve went to the free throw line a whole lot more.”
In a season that has seen multiple players mature, step up and contribute in Ahmad’s absence, Ahmad took on a similar role in place of some bench players during the team’s loss to the Red Raiders.
Ahmad was just one of two West Virginia players to reach double figures with the other one being senior guard Jevon Carter who scored 28 points, but the Mountaineers received less production from their bench.
The Mountaineers were outscored 26-20 in bench points, but 18 of West Virginia’s bench points came from Ahmad, the other two came from sophomore Maciej Bender. Freshman Teddy Allen has played just 10 minutes in the past two games combined and has shot 0-of-4 from the field.
In other words, Ahmad’s presence on the court may have come at just the right time.
“We couldn’t get anybody else other than (Carter) and Esa to make a shot,” Huggins said.
Huggins has said before that players themselves dictate playing time based on their work ethic, play and attitude.
Ahmad played 34 minutes during Saturday’s loss, second only to Carter (39) and with what he showed against the Red Raiders, it’s highly likely that Ahmad will not only continue seeing a large number of minutes, but he could potentially crack the starting lineup as well.
“He do what he do,” Carter said. “He’s going to be big like he always have. It’s good to have him back out there.”
Ahmad’s performance on Saturday may be just a glimpse of what he’s capable of achieving this season and that potential and progress will now be put on display for the rest of the season.
“He can do everything,” Carter said. “He can shoot, he can pass, he can rebound, defend. He’s just another piece to our puzzle.”