By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The game was over, a dark memory in Eron Harris’ mind as he sat in the West Virginia University locker room.
The post-game chatter, what there was of it after an 80-76 loss to No. 20 Gonzaga in a game the Mountaineers should have won, wasn’t registering with Harris.
“I had my eyes closed, and I was in another world,” he would say maybe a half hour later. “I’m so mad right now.”
And his mad at the moment better register with the rest of a frustrated West Virginia team, for it is going to play heavily on the direction this team takes for the rest of the season.
To begin with, you have to understand the mechanics of Tuesday’s game with Gonzaga.
It would have been a complete Gonzaga runaway were it not for Harris in the first half, who was making shots from everywhere but the Mountainlair as he scored 18 points.
Let us put that into perspective for a moment.
West Virginia opened against Gonzaga last year in Spokane and, at the half, registered exactly 18 points, the same number of points Harris alone had laid on the Zags in the half.
Now we go to the second half.
Harris scores five points, gets only five shots.
Now you understand why he is mad.
“I didn’t get the ball in the second half. That’s why I didn’t have the same second half,” he said.
Someone noted that Gonzaga had changed its defense, gone from a man-to-man to a 1-1-3 zone.
“They were trying to take you out of the game,” someone said to him.
“Everybody’s going to try to take me out of the game,” he said, quite pointedly.
Understand this about the conversation, it came in the shadow of defeat at a time when it appeared Harris could score 40 points and help avoid that defeat … or at least be given every opportunity to avoid it.
He didn’t want to sound like a “me-first” player, even went of his way to say the right thing at first.
“I just can’t get the ball, so … I guess I’ve got to work harder to get the ball,” he said.
Someone asked if it was a matter of assertiveness.
“I’ll just try to be more assertive. That’s probably it,” he answered.
No one was buying that answer, least of all the man who gave it.
The change in defense was offered as a reason why Harris had been taken out of the offense.
“They did zone. They did man. They did both, but I don’t think it’s what they do,” he said, now digging into the heart of what was really on his mind. “There’s things that get people open if somebody needs the ball. There’s screens, just pass it, I feel like … I probably just need to be more assertive from now on, I guess,” he said, but you could tell he wanted to say more.
And he did.
“You’ve got a player … Kobe, you screen for Kobe. I’m not saying I’m Kobe or anything, but I had a good half to be an option in the second half. I just felt like I wasn’t an option … and I’m not a selfish person,” he said.
“When you have 18 at the half, there’s a reason to get you the ball, right,” I responded.
“Exactly, you see what I’m saying.”
It didn’t matter if I saw what he was saying. It was obvious that this was something that would have to be worked out with teammates and coaches.
“It’s a conversation we’re eventually going to have. You’ve got to address it,” he said.
There are different viewpoints among coaches and teammates.
This is what the point guard, Juwan Staten, had to say about what happened from the first half to the second half.
“Somebody scores 18 in the first half, you are going to definitely come out (if you are the other team) and make sure he doesn’t get good looks, clean looks. Nothing changed in our game plan; we passed him the ball; we ran stuff for him,” he said.
“I mean, it’s hard. You score 18 in the first half, the team is going to come out and definitely make sure it knows where he is. From my perspective, one of my jobs is to get the ball to Eron, and every time I tried to get the ball to him in a spot I’m usually able to get the ball to him, they were reading it.
“They kept a close eye on him and switched a lot. Even if it was the guy guarding me, once I passed the ball to Eron he would switch to him. They did a great job of knowing where he was a limiting his touches.”
And coach Bob Huggins?
“They played zone, but they chased him. They did a pretty good job of knowing where he was. Basically, what they said was, ‘He’s not going to beat us,’ so they didn’t guard some of our guys.”
And those guys – Gary Browne and Devin Williams – couldn’t make shots, magnifying the situation.
“Honestly, before it’s all said and done, the shots we missed, we’ll make. Browne had shot the ball well. They didn’t guard Devin at all. It’s a gamble; they try to take those guys,” Huggins said.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.