Down at the bottom of the box score from WVU's win over the Salukis sit the names of Alex Ruoff and Rob Summers. They, of course, are playeres number eight and nine in West Virginia's rotation -- guys that have typically gotten just a couple minutes per game. In Friday's win, however, the two made severable notable plays that loomed large in the outcome.
Ruoff, who was on the floor for five minutes, hit a big three pointer, grabbed an offensive reboound and had a blocked shot that was reminiscent of Darris Nichols' rejection in last year's tournament win over Wake Forest. Summers, who played in both halves for a total of seven minutes, scored on a layup, rejected a shot on the defensive end, and had two big tips that resulted in West Virginia rebounds. And while those totals might not fill up a line score in the manner of a Kevin Pittsnogle or a Mike Gansey, they came at key times in the game when the Mountaineers needed a play to maintain their lead over the gritty Salukis.
West Virginia hasn't gotten much productivity beyond its top seven players over the season, so the contributions were certainly a welcome sight for head coach John Beilein and his staff. Both Ruoff and Summers, playinig in their first NCAA tournament games, performed like seasoned veterans.
"I was real nervous, but once that shot went in, it went away," said Ruoff, who certainly didn't display any outward signs of jitters during his time on the floor. "I've ben getting a couple of minutes every game, so I've been concentrating on keeping the flow going."
Despite his admission to some butterflies, Ruoff's play didn't show any evidence of hesitant play. The true freshman moved the ball well on offense, ran his plays crisply, and, as he noted, kept things moving in the Mountaineers' patterned attack. And once he hit the three, his play on the opposite end of the court got a jump start as well.
"I can't even explain how much it fires you up. When you hit a three, you just get another energy boost," said Ruoff of the effects a bomb can have on other areas of the game. "It makes you go as hard as you can."
Rob Summers, Ruoff's partner off the middle of the bench, had what was likely his best outing of the season. The transfer from Penn State, also playing in his first NCAA tournament after sitting out last season, gave WVU the kind of play it needs in the middle when Kevin Pittsnogle takes his brief rests.
"I just got some more time today, and tried to be as active as I could. I figure if I'm out there I might as well do something," he said with a laugh. "It helped me stay in the flow of the game. It felt good to be out there."
The fact that both players mention "flow" is indicative of the difficulty that subs playing just a few minutes have in being productive right off the bench. in WVU's offense, more than most, it's important to not only make the right read and the right cut, but to do so at the correct time. Fail in any of those areas, and a play falls apart. Against Southern Illinois, however, both Summers and Ruoff got into the flow early, perhaps aided by their scores, and kept the offensive moving. And while items like that don't show up in the box score, they certainly have a big effect on the game.
WVU's other two players off the bench, Darris Nichols and Pat Beilein, also had good afternoons. Beilein hit a pair of threes, and Nichols, after a shaky start, directed West Virginia's offense well while J.D. Collins was benched with foul problems. All told, WVU's reserves outscored SIU's by the margin of 21-3 -- and that 18-point difference, not coincindentally, was also the distance between the winnners' and losers' final score.
Now that Ruoff and Summers have some postseason success under their belts, the hope is that they will continue to provide more key plays in their roles off the bench. And while neither is likley to socre in double figures or play for 20 minutes, there's no doubt that more big plays will be needed for WVU to advance deeper into the tournament.
"We feel really good about today," Summers said in locker room, " and hopefully Sunday we can get the same chances and make some more contributions."