By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University had never been to Iowa State before to play basketball. Fact is, the Mountaineers had never been to the state of Iowa to play basketball before Wednesday night’s visit, so they weren’t sure exactly what lie ahead.
Bob Huggins was. He’d coached there a couple of times at Cincinnati and a couple of times at Kansas State, and when it came time to offer a description of what lie ahead for his Mountaineers he knew what to say.
“This is definitely not a wine and cheese crowd,” he said.
And, as if the Cyclones weren’t revved up enough just by the game that was about to be played on a court where they had already won 16 straight games, Cy the Cardinal, their mascot, tossed in a shot from half court.
Here they were, throwing in half-court shots by their mascot against a team in West Virginia that has spent most of the season having big problems making so much as a layup, a team that suddenly found itself without the player who might have been its best shooter, freshman Terry Henderson.
Henderson wasn’t even in the state of Iowa for the game, having somehow suffered a lower back injury in practice on Tuesday and having been left behind out of caution.
“I don’t have any idea what happened,” Huggins said when asked to describe the injury. “I’m not sure he knows what happened. He was treated today; he felt good today; no sense him flying out here, trying to sleep on the plane, twisting and turning.”
So there you had it, West Virginia on the road without one of its best scorers against the highest-scoring team in the Big 12 conference.
Huggins put freshman Eron Harris in Henderson’s place, something that would turn into a move of genius even though his team could not overcome an 18-point deficit in losing, 69-67, with one of the most schizophrenic performance ever seen.
“We have to put someone on the floor who can make a shot. He’s shot as well as anyone has over the last four of five games,” Huggins explained of starting Harris.
But at first no one really could make a basket. Oh, the Mountaineers were in the Iowa State faces defensively and this team that averaged 82 points a game was held to 29 in the first half, but WVU couldn’t figure out a way to finish with the lead, somehow managing to miss all 10 of its 3-point shots.
That allowed you to say that at halftime the Iowa State mascot, Cy the Cardinal, had one more 3-point basket than the entire West Virginia team.
And there was no halftime magic, either, for Jabarie Hinds launched a 3 out of the gate and WVU was 0-for-11 from beyond the arc, shooting as though the arc had been drawn in Des Moines rather than Ames. That streak would actually grow to 0-for-12 from 3, some of them so unsightly that ESPN2 almost had to bleep them out.
The deficit kept swelling as Huggins became more and more exasperated, his big players not doing anything. He finally said what the hell, put Matt Humphrey into the game, something he had seldom done, sent small with four guards and turned them loose.
They couldn’t do worse than that 0-for-12 start in 3-point shooting.
They made 9 of their next 12 3s, Harris making four, Humphrey 3 and Hinds 2 as they fought back to draw even at 67-67.
“Truth of the matter is this was a team built to play in the Big East, a big physical league. We just have to go small because that has not worked,” said Huggins.
What worked was those four guards, who brought them back and put them in a position to win until a basket by freshman Georges Niang on a nifty feed from Will Clyburn for his only assist of the game wiped out all the good feeling.
It didn’t help any that the officials missed what Huggins felt was a clear foul in the closing seconds before the winning basket, setting him off at game’s end.
“That was every bit as much a foul as the foul they called on us at the end of the Kansas State game,” Huggins said.
Again, though, he didn’t get the call and all those spectacular 3s, all the guts and the glory of the climb from 18 down, meant nothing at all.
“We’re two calls from being 3-1 in the league instead of 1-3,” Huggins said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter@bhertzel.