By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
For most of Tuesday night’s battle at the Coliseum, West Virginia did a number on Gonzaga star Kevin Pangos, and because of that and some dazzling first-half shooting by Eron Harris and second-half heroics of Terry Henderson, the Mountaineers seemed on their way to an upset of the nation’s No. 20 team.
But in the closing minutes Pangos completely took over the game, hitting a basket and three consecutive 3-point shots to help erase what once was a 10-point West Virginia lead and turn it into a 80-76 Gonzaga victory before 9,350 fans and a national ESPN2 audience.
The Mountaineers did not go quietly, battling back in the final two minutes from seven points down as Harris canned a 3-pointer to give him 23 points and Juwan Staten a jump shot to cut the Gonzaga advantage to two points with 51.2 seconds left.
The Mountaineers got a momentary break on a missed shot, but Sam Dower skied for the offensive rebound and slam dunk to establish a 4-point lead.
Pangos, who was averaging 19.8 points a game, scored 18, while Harris finished with 23 and Henderson 17.
WVU fell to 6-4 on the season, while Gonzaga, in beating WVU a third straight time in little more than a year, lifted its record to 9-1.
WVU coach Bob Huggins made a push to get fans after West Virginia averaged 5,789 through the early home games, concentrating on the students.
He went so far as to be in the Mountainlair on Tuesday afternoon giving out free pizza as a bribe to get students to come. It worked to the tune of 1,500 student tickets being distributed as the Mountaineer Maniacs came out to put on a show for ESPN2.
The idea was to get the Coliseum jumping, and it started with a new scoreboard intro played at a deafening level with a holiday slant ... “Tis the season for all good fans to get loud.”
Huggins made a change in his starting lineup, giving Henderson the start over freshman Nathan Adrian, who had started every game.
Adrian had been averaging six points a game, having gotten the starting job because Henderson was injured in the preseason and took a while to get back into shape. He had come to the top of his game recently and it was only a matter of time before Huggins made that move.
It was a wild first half that saw Harris score 18 points — matching WVU’s entire point total in the first half of last year’s game at Gonzaga.
That helped the Mountaineers to a 39-35 advantage at intermission, despite the fact that Staten, the Big 12 leader in assists, failed to record even one.
WVU was faced with one major dilemma, however, a very large one in the person of Przemek Kamowski, a 7-foot, 1-inch, 305-pound native of Torun, Poland.
The Mountaineers had no one to deal with him down low, and he scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds for Gonzaga in a first half that was so closely contested that the lead changed hands 13 times, WVU’s largest lead at five points and Gonzaga’s at four.
Quite a difference from the 84-50 beating the Zags laid on WVU in Spokane, Wash., to open last season.
WVU came out smoking in the second half, ignited by a pair of Henderson baskets, the second a rather spectacular grab of an air ball thrown up by Devin Williams, which he dunked with authority.
A short while later Staten, who had been doing a lot of things except what he normally does, building assists, collected his first assist, then made a pair of free throws and floated over the Polish mountain of a man for a layup that hung on the front of the rim for what seemed like an eternity before dropping, giving WVU a 10-point, 51-41 lead.
Gonzaga began chipping away and cut the lead to one, but Henderson, who had just hit a 3, canned another one and was fouled in the process. By the time he made the field goal, the lead was back to 64-56 and Henderson had 15 points.
NOTES: Among those in Tuesday night’s crowd was former WVU coach Gale Catlett, there to help recognize former player Dale Blaney, who has made a career out of a second sport, auto racing ... WVU star from two years ago Kevin Jones also among those in attendance ... Terry Henderson made his first start of the year, replacing Nathan Adrian ... Halftime was enlivened when a fan in Section 36, high in the Coliseum, put on a solid twerking exhibition.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.