By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
In the end, Eron Harris ran out of miracles and with it Purdue beat West Virginia, 73-70, in a game the Mountaineers had to have to maintain a realistic chance at post-season play.
All day long it had been one miracle after another for Harris, leaving 10,019 fans inside the Coliseum in awe of each and every move as he led all scorers in the game with 24 points.
There were jump shots with hands in his face, drives in which he had to change directions three times weaving toward the basket, a baseline drive from the corner that took him under the basket only to spin and score, and yet another drive that ended with a 360-degree spin and impossible shot.
Then there were the passes, the stat sheet showing two assists but each coming on sleight-of-hand passes to shooters he could not possibly have seen, yet detected, open with some sixth sense.
But with it all, as West Virginia was taking the ball out of bounds with 4.2 seconds remaining, they were down 3 points and only a miracle could save them.
The ball naturally went to the Mr. Miracle, Eron Harris.
He drove the floor quickly, one thought on his mind.
“I obviously can’t go to the basket because we need a three,” he explained.
It’s three or nothing.
“If anything, I probably had these on,” he said, cupping his hands alongside his eyes to symbolize blinkers. “I was just trying to go get to the spot to hit that shot, but I didn’t see anywhere to go. Four seconds … ”
Harris launched his three as the last two seconds were clicking off the clock. Purdue had a tough defensive assignment: Challenge the shot but don’t foul in the act of shooting or he would get three free throws.
Terone Johnson, who had been Purdue’s version of Eron Harris on this day while recording 20 points, went up with Harris and somehow got his fingertips on the shot, forcing it to float aimlessly through the air, symbolically short of its mark, just as the Mountaineers would come up short.
Suddenly, WVU was 7-5 with only William & Mary left before league play. They lack credentials in non-conference play to be considered for the NCAAs, not a signature victory to their credit with tough losses to Wisconsin, Missouri, Gonzaga and now Purdue.
To get 20 victories, assuming they beat William & Mary, they would need to go 12-6 in a difficult Big 12 … and considering they play Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Iowa State and Kansas State twice each, that’s a tall order … and an unlikely one.
So why did this game come out as it did?
To begin with, WVU went 3 for 18 from behind the three-point arc and, quite frankly, they aren’t going to beat many teams shooting three for 18 from three the way their offense is constituted.
Huggins had even tried to address that before the game, changing his starting lineup and replacing Kevin Noreen with Remi Dibo, but Dibo was a non-entity in the game, playing 18 minutes taking two shots, both threes, missing them and getting into the box score beyond that with three rebounds and two turnovers.
“We hit three of 18 3-point shots,” said Huggins. “How many were hard threes? Nate’s (Adrian) got a wide open three, it’s a two-point game or one-point game, and it barely skims the rim. Terry (Henderson) has some wide, wide open looks that barely skim the rim. We have to make some of those.
“We didn’t shoot very well, but we also got outrebounded by seven and in truth Matt would probably say they didn’t shoot it as well as they wanted to, but they got 14 offensive rebounds that lead to scores. We got 13 … we just gave them too many.”
So, shooting and rebounding … and then there was defense.
“You put on the board ‘No Layups … No Layups … No Easy Layups,’” Huggins said, “and still they got back in the game early when we were playing pretty well on transition layups. It’s not hard to run back. Sometimes it’s hard to make shots; it’s not hard to run back.
“They didn’t shoot the lights out. Their runs came on layups. I’m gonna fix it. I’ve been trying to fix some other things, but I’m going to fix this.”
The shame was that wasted was a breakthrough game for freshman Devin Williams, who had his fourth double-double of the season with 20 points and 12 rebounds, even hitting eight of nine free throws. He had been hitting 47 percent from the free throw line coming into the game.
And so now WVU’s players get a few days off for Christmas break, not coming back until the 26th, when the must regroup and refuel for the rest of the way things really get tough.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.