MORGANTOWN — He is the people’s choice, this newcomer named Gabe Osabuohien.
He is very much at the heart of the “Mountaineer Madness” defense for West Virginia that is snuffing out Big 12 offenses like a candle in the wind.
His numbers are more tawdry than gaudy.
Who is he most like as a player?
All he does is the dirty work.
While most players attempt to fill up the glory lines in the scorebook — points and rebounds — Gabe Osabuohien lives in the areas outside the spotlight.
Who leads WVU in charges taken? He does.
He also leads in bruises and floor burns.
Osabuohien risks life and limb every game as he puts defense first, scoring last and instead concentrates on passing the ball and leaving the glory to others.
His teammates appreciate him. The fans appreciate him.
He gets standing ovations for collisions, but why not? He is sort of an Evel Knievel in sneakers.
His coming out game was when WVU upset then-No. 2 Ohio State and the play that defined what he is came with 15 second left and the Mountaineers protecting a six-point lead. The Buckeyes inbounded the ball from the baseline out to the top of the key, hoping for a 3, but Osabuohien leaped, got a hand on the ball and batted it to Chase Harler, who drove the floor for a layup that left no doubt about the outcome.
Take the moment in WVU’s overwhelming 81-49 victory over TCU on Tuesday when the Horned Frog Edric Dennis tried to drive to the basket only to find the roadblock put up by the six-foot-eight Osabuohien.
He tried to avoid the collision, wound up getting called for walking, which gave WVU the ball, but before they took it out of bounds, Osabuohien was pleading his case with the officials that it was a charge.
You look at his line and the TCU game was quite typical.
He played 21 minutes, took two shots, made one; made one of three free throws. That’s three points, nothing special, you say?
Well, there were five rebounds, three steals and five assists, more than any guard had.
“He can do anything,” Derek Culver said of Osabuohien. “He plays defense second to none. He works his tail off on offense, communicating and making sure everyone is in the right spot. If Gabe comes in with the same attitude that he has — team first — the sky’s the limit for him.”
The assists are crucial for Huggins who was looking for someone to get the ball into his post players in the right spot and on time. Osabuohien gave him just that.
“I’m very comfortable. I’ve been doing it for a long time now. Just being able to play with bigs that can seal their defender, it makes it easier for me to just throw it in there to them,” Osabuohien said.
“At Arkansas, I played with Daniel Gafford, who’s now in the NBA,” he said, speaking of his time before transferring from Arkansas. “I was able to pass it to him like I am to these bigs. That’s where I was able to move in and fit perfectly. I could feed them in the right position.”
And then Osabuohien gave them something else, the one thing that makes WVU so unique, another big who can guard smaller players on the perimeter. Culver does it masterfully at 6-10, Tshiebwe does it well at 6-8 and Osabuohien does it maybe best of all, his long arms deflecting passes.
“After a while, when they see us deny everything, they take the play off and it ends up being one on one. That’s what we want, to deny all the passes and make them play one-on-one,” he said. “The way DC and Oscar move when they guard a guard, it’s amazing to see that. They are definitely gifted.”
— Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel