The Times West Virginian

Sports

January 8, 2014

WVU off to fast start in Big 12

MORGANTOWN — There are two ways to look at West Virginia University’s sweep of a pair of road games in Texas to open the Big 12 season.

One could look at them as being against the two teams picked to sit at the bottom of the conference, each being a life-or-death struggle, Monday night’s game at Texas Tech needing a 3-point shot by Terry Henderson in the final 20 seconds to force overtime before WVU could win, 89-86, and say if you are going to struggle with those teams it is going to be a long season.

One could look at it like that, but if one does it perhaps would be prudent to not mention it around coach Bob Huggins.

“I think any coach in this conference would be excited to win two games on the road,” Huggins said after washing away the memory of a five-loss non-conference season. “This is a pretty hard league to win in. You’ve got to be excited to be 2-0 on the road.”

It is true it took every arrow Huggins had in his quiver to hit this bullseye, shaking Henderson out of a shooting slump to hit four of six 3s against Texas Tech and getting Juwan Staten to take complete charge of the offense, scoring 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting with his normal handful of assists and rebounds.

In many ways it was a victory WVU could be proud of, even if it did let a lead of 11 points slip away. That is forgiven when you win, and you don’t win many games like the Texas Tech game on the road.

“It’s always fun to win by a nice margin, but these are the games you live for,” Staten said. “Everybody wants to play college basketball in a game that comes down to the wire.”

But one of the reasons it went down to the wire was that Staten, normally the coolest, most intelligent player on the floor, made a couple of mistakes.

First there was a technical foul called on him after a big-time slam dunk. After the play, Staten turned toward the man who had tried to defend him and seemed to say something to him; at least an official seemed to think he said something and teed him up.

“I actually thought I got fouled (on the drive), but I didn’t say anything,” Staten said. “I turned around and looked just to see who it was I thought fouled me. I just looked at him, and (the officials) thought it was a tech, so it was a tech.”

The ensuing four points tied the game at 68, and Staten knew Huggins would not be pleased.

“I look over at Coach Huggs and he’s just giving me that look, so I definitely needed to do something to quiet their run,” Staten said. “I knew I needed to make plays because that could be a play that could come back to hurt us.”

A later play also was damaging but not fatally.

In the closing seconds of overtime, trying to close out the game, Staten came down court on a fast break spotting freshman Devin Williams near the basket. He zipped him a nice pass and as Williams tried to shoot he was fouled, making one of the two free throws.

“I probably would have pulled the ball back out rather than passing it,” Huggins said.

Had he done that he could have run more time off the clock before he was fouled, which would have put him at the line rather than Williams, who is not a good free-throw shooter.

West Virginia also survived one of those nights that Eron Harris sometimes has.

He’s a shooter, so he is going to take his shoots, and sometimes they won’t go in.

This was one of those nights, although it’s hard to be critical of an 18-point performance.

But Harris was just 3-of-11 from 3-point range, and he tossed in four turnovers.

“Eron was not the Eron Harris we love to watch,” Huggins admitted.

But Henderson’s three bailed everyone out.

“It was kind of deep, too — and I don’t usually shoot deep 3s — but I felt confident,” Henderson said. “Good thing I made it.”

Now the Mountaineers return home on Saturday to face perhaps the best team in the conference in Oklahoma State, a game that can be used as a measuring stick of just where they are this season.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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