The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

March 9, 2014

Mountaineers stun No. 8 Kansas, 92-86

MORGANTOWN — The missing link finally showed itself for West Virginia University on Saturday, maybe just in time to save the season for the Mountaineers.

“Better late than never,” is the way WVU guard Eron Harris put it after freshman center Devin Williams stepped out of the shadows and put together the game everyone has been waiting for in leading the Mountaineers to a crucial 92-86 victory over Kansas.

Williams hit nearly everything he threw at the basket and was a power on the boards as WVU clinched the sixth seed in the Big 12 Tournament, meaning the Mountaineers have a first-round bye before playing Texas on Thursday.

Williams finished with his eighth double-double, putting him third all-time among WVU freshmen, scoring a career high 22 point while pulling in 13 rebounds.

He was hardly alone with his heroics, Juwan Staten added to his Player of the Year credentials by scoring 24 points with nine assists, and Eron Harris bounced back from a dismal game at Oklahoma in which he scored 5 points to pour in 28.

And while he scored only five points and had one basket, Gary Browne made it a big one, hitting a 3 as Kansas was threatening to erase completely what had been a 25-point lead and pull the game out in the closing minutes.

The Jayhawks’ comeback, from 64-39 down, was led by the phenomenal freshman Andrew Wiggins, who put on a show like few other freshmen have ever put on in the Coliseum, scoring 41 points with eight rebounds, two assists, five steals and four blocks.

“Nobody in America will have a better game than Andrew did today,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.

In a way, the contest came down to a battle between the two freshmen – Williams, who has been disappointing for much of the season – and Wiggins, a 6-foot-8 guard who is one step away from the NBA and showed why in this game.

Everyone was overwhelmed by Williams performance.

“I didn’t see that coming but I told Dev the whole season that we needed him to play the way he played today,” Harris said. “And he finally gave it to us. It’s better late than never. I said, ‘Dev that’s what we’ve been waiting on.’ I hope he gives us that for the remainder of the season because if he does we’re going to go far.”

Williams understood what Harris was saying.

“It is better late than never,” he echoed. “Everybody around me has got high hopes for me. It’s kind of hard when they have high hopes for you. There’s a sense of urgency right now. We saw the newspaper … ‘LAST CHANCE TO DANCE,’ that was the statement right there.

“Well, we ain’t done dancing.”

Williams was in charge of the first-half onslaught that had the Mountaineers simply burying Kansas in all facets of the game, but especially inside because the Jayhawks were without their star center, also NBA-bound, Joel Embiid, who is out with a bad back.

“Did we miss Joel Embiid? We probably did,” said Self. “To be honest, Devin Williams made a lot of his shots stepping away from the basket. In the first 17 games in the Big 12 we have been a good rebounding team. Today we were not efficient at rebounding at all. Joel Embiid would have probably helped that number.”

And so it was WVU took charge early and seemed to have matters so well in hand that it was only a matter of what the final margin would be.

But Kansas went into a press and Wiggins began dropping 3s like the February snow on West Virginia and the lead shriveled away.

“You’d have to ask Bob (Huggins), but playing from behind there is no pressure while playing with the lead you tend to play not to lose,” Self said, trying to explain the comeback.

But, at the end, Browne hit his three, Staten canned three of four free throws and then Harris made four to keep Kansas an arm’s length away and produce a big victory for the sellout crowd of 14,038 — a couple of thousand of them stormed the court when the final buzzer went off.

 “It’s something I never have been a part of, something I never thought I would be a part of,” Harris said. “I didn’t even get a chance to react. We were hugging each other, before you know it we had nowhere to move and it was hot. I was sweating and I got uncomfortable for a little bit.

“But those are the people that love us … when we do good. It’s something I will never forget because that was a dream.”

Williams had his feet a little firmer on the ground.

“I’m not used to that yet,” said Williams. “I kind of did my little jumping around, but it’s not our Super Bowl. This wasn’t a Super Bowl game for me and it wasn’t a Super Bowl game for us. Now we have to go to the Big 12 Tournament,” he said.

 Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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