PITTSBURGH — In the first three minutes of Pitt’s game against West Virginia on Friday, starting forward Terrell Brown collected two personal fouls.
In five more minutes, fellow forward Eric Hamilton earned two himself.
In a game that featured several top-notch big men on the other bench, the early losses of both of Pitt’s experienced post players seemed potentially devastating.
Freshman Abdoul Karim Coulibaly whipped off his warmups and checked into the game after having played just five minutes combined in Pitt’s first three games.
The Mali native was rated as a three-star prospect coming out of Scotland Campus Sports in the south-central part of Pennsylvania. But his growth was projected to be a slow climb. That’s typical for forwards of all kinds, but Coulibaly also was a late arrival at Pitt after playing for Mali’s national team this summer and is still working on his English, making picking up the scheme a challenge.
But facing a pair of potential all-Big 12 bigs in Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe, in his first significant collegiate action, Coulibaly rose to the challenge. He scored four points — more than any other Pitt forward — and grabbed an offensive rebound in 19 minutes.
It wasn’t necessarily an eye-popping statistical debut, but considering Pitt’s struggles in the paint as a whole, Coulibaly was a significant bright spot. Pitt head coach Jeff Capel suspected that Coulibaly might be useful against West Virginia’s forest of bigs.
“I thought he would be a really good matchup, especially how they defended ball screens,” Capel said. “We could hit him on kind of a short roll. He can make decisions and he can make plays and I thought he made some great plays in the first half.”
“He’s a good player, and we knew he was a good player. Just because he hasn’t played as much in three games, it doesn’t take away from the fact that we know he’s a good player and we know he’s going to be a really good player here. I’m not surprised by what he did.”
What got Pitt out of its usage plan was the foul trouble for Brown and Hamilton, forcing Coulibaly to nearly quadruple his minutes total from the first three games.
“He was going to play anyway,” Capel said. “He ended up playing a little bit longer and in longer stretches, because both Terrell and Eric had two fouls very early in the first half and I didn’t want to put them back in — with the way the game was being called — right away. So he was able to play extended minutes and I thought he did a really good job with it.”
Coulibaly will still likely work behind Brown and Hamilton in the rotation going forward, but his impressive outing might make Capel a little less hesitant to go to the big Malian.
“I thought he did some very good things in this game,” Capel said. “I thought it was a bright spot and I think it’s something that will help us going forward.”