The Times West Virginian

March 9, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Eron Harris bounces back to spark WVU

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — One minute and forty-seven seconds had ticked off the Coliseum clock on Saturday afternoon and things were off to the kind of start most people had expected, Kansas in the lead, albeit as slender as a one-point lead can be.

That was when Juwan Staten spotted Eron Harris open beyond the 3-point arc.

As he has done all season, he slipped the ball to his backcourt partner, who launched a 3-point shot that went swish through the net.

On the surface, all it did was erase that one-point lead Kansas had early on, but more than anything else it erased any memories of Eron Harris’ last experience on a basketball court at Oklahoma, a game Bob Huggins termed his worst ever, a game in which he scored only five points, missed every 3-point shot he took and slipped in three turnovers.

It was as ugly a game as you could imagine him experiencing, but Eron Harris has spent a good part of this year having good games followed by bad games, so much so you never knew what was coming.

“I can’t explain Eron at all,” Huggins would say after a game that defied explanation, WVU’s 92-86 victory over Kansas to earn the sixth seed in the Big 12 Tournament and keep its flickering NCAA hopes alive.

“It’s like that commercial ‘I’m comfortable in my own skin,’” Huggins continued. “We need to get that commercial for Eron. Sometimes he does too much, but he’s trying to win. It’s not him being selfish. When he plays within what he’s capable of doing, he’s pretty doggone good. He got 28 against a heck of a defensive team today.”

You read that right, he followed that 5-point performance with 28, turning a WVU loss into a crucial victory, and it started with that first 3-point shot going swish.

The mind, you see, is a fragile thing, and Harris didn’t need any reminders of the last game, which he was trying to put far into his past.

“I wasn’t even worrying about the last game, which was something I’ve been working on, not dwelling on bad games I had previously,” he admitted. “It helped me today. Being mentally strong helped me today, because I didn’t think one bit about the last game.”

Day to day, minute to minute, almost shot to shot, you don’t really know what you will get with Harris. He is a wonderfully gifted player, but one with weak spots.

And it’s funny, but in basketball, weaknesses have a tendency to show up far more often on the road than at home, and so it has been with him.

In the Coliseum he has made 105 of 219 field goal attempts, which is 47.9 percent. On the road he is 73 for 184, which is 39.7 percent, a big difference.

But it is in his 3-point shooting that the difference really shows up. With 5 of 7 going in against Kansas he now has hit 59 of 109 3s, which is a staggering 54.1 percent. On the road the number is 27 of 92, which is a rather pedestrian 29.3 percent.

The result is that he averages 16.2 points a game on the road and 19.5 points a game at home.

What happens?

Is it the crowds that cheer for the opponents, different lighting, not sleeping in his own bed?

Harris believes he started the year playing better on the road than he has played lately.

“I think that’s pretty much delayed reaction. I think early on in the road games I was doing pretty well,” he said. “Lately those away games have been tough on me. It’s tough for me to get shots. It’s tough for me to get open.

“At home we have an advantage. We have the energy, I know the court, I know the ball … I love the ball here. Those are all factors, but I have to be able to play on the road and at home.”

Think about that for a moment.

The ball?

Is it different home and away, or is it simply a matter of matter over mind?

At any rate, Harris has to find a way to be more consistent.

“I think maturity has something to do with it,” Huggins said. “We all have a tendency – that includes me – I look back at what Da’Sean became. You kind of forget what Da’Sean was. I look back at what Wellington Smith became. You kind of forget what Wellington Smith was.

“They were very inconsistent. I think it’s maturity. It’s a learning curve. Guys learn.”

If it is going to hit him, now is the time for there are no more home games, only games at tournament sites.

If WVU is to have an extensive post-season, Harris is going to have find a ball he likes to shoot.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.