By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
If this is what the Big 12 is going to be this year, it’s going to be a fun winter, no matter how cold it gets.
After TCU went down to the wire before the West Virginia Mountaineers could pull out a 74-69 victory, they had to go past the wire to defeat Texas Tech in yet another thriller, this one going overtime before they could win, 89-86.
That made it two-for-two deep in the heart of Texas, helping erase the memory of so many narrow losses in non-conference play.
“This reminds me of what Jim Herrick, a Charleston guy, once said to me,” WVU Coach Bob Huggins said. “He said, ‘I’d rather have the ball than not, rather be up than down, rather win than lose. If that’s your coaching philosophy, you’ll end up being pretty good.’”
This was a perfect night for Huggins to be thinking of that, for he had to call on all the coaching wisdom because it didn’t look like that was the way it was going to end.
It took a 3-point shot from Terry Henderson, who broke out of a shooting slump to score 16, with 18 seconds in regulation to force the overtime and then sheer guts to survive the extra period.
As always, it was Juwan Staten in the right place at the right time — which was all the time. The point guard covered up for what was a shaky performance by Eron Harris, even though Harris did score 18 points, by scoring 25 points on magnificent 10-of-12 shooting.
“Eron was not the Eron Harris we love to watch,” Huggins admitted.
But Staten’s ability to drive the lane, to dish the ball and, at the end, to can a couple of key free throws when the Mountaineers most needed them, allowed them to be up rather than down when a desperation 3 from Texas Tech’s Jay Crockett failed to fall.
“Juwan has always been a talented guy, but he has emersed himself in basketball this year. During the off season he came to my house and wanted films of Mike Logan and guys I had in the past. He studied them. He’s studied opponents. He’s studied the system,” Huggins said.
“Before, he knew who was supposed to come open first, but I’m not sure he knew who was supposed to come open second and third. Now he does.”
And then Huggins made a really strong statement.
“He’s as knowledgeable as anyone I’ve ever had,” the veteran coach said.
Having a coach on the floor in Staten may have been the difference in this game, for Texas Tech never backed down, even after WVU had an 11-point lead in the second half. They fought hard, made 22 of 26 free throws to stay in the game and did everything they could to win, but couldn’t.
“I thought we had the game going the way we wanted it to go and we stood around on defense and let them get back into the game,” Huggins said.
The day started with a distinguished visitor to WVU’s shootaround, Hall of Fame coach Bobby Knight, a one-time coach at Texas Tech but famed for his days at Indiana, sitting and talking with WVU’s Bob Huggins as cameras snapped around them.
Neither Knight’s presence nor WVU’s could draw out the locals for the game.
Texas is football territory and they playing this little college football game between Auburn and Florida State on television, and that seemed to be more important than this basketball game, for only 5,005 was the announced crowd in the United Spirit Arena.
That cut down on any home floor advantage the Red Raiders might have enjoyed.
Instead, it was Terry Henderson who enjoyed the first half, which WVU led, 39-33.
Before the game, Huggins had talked about how important it was to ignite Henderson, who had been having problems putting the ball in the basket, especially from 3-point range, in recent games.
“We need Terry to make some shots,” Huggins said. “He’s at 30 percent from 3. He shot 43 percent in conference play a year ago.”
Right on key, Henderson warmed up.
West Virginia was trailing, 7-5, when Henderson stepped in and buried a 3 to give the Mountaineers their first lead of the night.
Moments later he canned another, and then, after Texas Tech had scored, freshman Brandon Watkins, who came off the bench to grab five first-half rebounds, blocked a shot.
The ball rolled free before Henderson scooped it up and took it down for a layup. He had scored 8 points in a row to take the lead to 13-11.
By halftime Henderson had 10 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists, but he wasn’t alone in helping WVU to the lead.
While Eron Harris struggled, Juwan Staten attacked the basket with some nifty fast break points and led in scoring with 11.
And quietly, guard Gary Browne came off the bench to provide a huge spark with plays that don’t show up in the box score but show up on the coach’s film study following the game.
NOTES: Been a mini-mania among some media, who just can’t seem to wait for an announcement one way or the other, about an impending announcement from the NCAA allowing Jonathan Holton to play. It may come, but we’re 15 games into the season … Eron Harris went into the Texas Tech game leading the Big 12 in scoring at 18.6 points a game and Juwan Staten was eighth in the conference at 16.2 … Staten was 15th nationally in assists and sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio … He leads the Big 12 in assists per game at 6.3, minutes played at 35.56 per game and in assists to turnovers with 3.7.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel