By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
A year ago, in the most forgettable season of Bob Huggins’ most memorable career, Duquesne defeated West Virginia, 60-56.
Fifty-six points is all West Virginia could score.
Fast forward now to Sunday afternoon at the Coliseum.
In this game, West Virginia got 61 points — from just Eron Harris and Juwan Staten combined.
That’s right, the two Mountaineer guards could have beaten Duquesne alone, and that tells you all you need to know about what a difference a year makes, for this time freshman Devin Williams added 18 points to the career-high 33 Harris put on the board and the 28 Staten scored as WVU ran away from the Dukes late, 96-83.
“I thought it was the complete opposite of last year when you had two bad teams and could not score,” said Duquesne Coach Jim Ferry. “The kids played really hard and grinded back making it close in the second half. In the end, we could not sustain it.
“The biggest key to this game was Staten. I know Eron Harris had a bunch of points as well, but for us, we could not keep Staten in front of us. We tried multiple things like zone, trapping, stepping off and playing in the paint. I thought he just dominated the basketball game.”
Indeed, Staten was masterful as he ran the show and the floor.
He added nine assists against one turnover and three steals to the 28 points.
“Juwan is a lot more effective this year,” Harris said of his backcourt running mate. “He’s being given a lot more freedom as far as coaches telling him to go out and run the show. He’s our point guard; he’s our leader. I think he’s our most skilled player,” Harris said.
“I finally have a good grasp of the offense and what the coaches want,” Staten explained. “Coach Huggins has given me a lot of responsibility and freedom.”
And so it is that Staten runs the show, passing and driving, doing whatever it takes to take a team that averaged 66 points a game a year ago and get them to where they were pushing 100 points, the 96 being the fourth most scored under Huggins at WVU.
What’s more, it didn’t push their max. In fact, they shot better from the floor at 58.9 percent than from the free throw line at 58.8, Harris hurting there by making just 3 of 7 while Staten was taking full advantage of the new rules and taking 19 free throws, hitting 14.
While West Virginia was in control most of the way, leading 49-43 at the half, they couldn’t pull away and early in the second half the Dukes made a brief run at them, Micah Mason hitting a 3 to tie the game at 59.
That was as far as it went as Harris immediately canned a 3 and then Duquesne made a mistake unlike many you’ll ever see, Dominique McKoy being nailed with an intentional foul as Terry Henderson tried to score on a breakaway.
Normally, with 14:05 left to play, you don’t see intentional fouls.
Henderson made one of the two free throws and when WVU got the ball out of bounds Williams made a strong baseline drive for a layup and the lead had jumped to six points.
The Dukes kept scraping and cut it to 75-71 when Harris and Henderson took out the daggers again. Each made a 3 from virtually the same spot in the left corner to take the lead to 10.
“Terry and Eron are very capable of making 3s and they did that,” Huggins said. “We went from being up by four to being up by 10. When you look at the scoreboard you feel a lot more comfortable when you see you are up by 10.”
WVU cruised home from there, offering proof that things are different this season.
“I think both programs turned over their rosters quite a bit,” Ferry said. “I watched our game last year and it was brutal. We won because someone had to. We were bad. They were bad.
“I do not think one of our teams are bad right now. Both teams have more scoring power.”
And West Virginia has Harris and Staten a year older.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.