The Times West Virginian

Sports

March 11, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN- Fighting against all odds

MORGANTOWN — While West Virginia is looking upon the Big 12 Tournament as a rebirth, one final chance to make a miracle run to glory against all odds, the reality of the situation is that it remains a bad team that has lost its final six games of the regular season and seven of the last eight.

In the process of going 6-12 in Big 12 play, never beating a team ahead of it, it has compiled a list of statistics that almost challenge the negativity of last football season’s defensive statistics. Because of this it is most difficult to select a favorite, yet there is one statistic that stands above all others, if only because it remains alive and challenging.

West Virginia enters its Wednesday night’s Big 12 Conference Tournament matchup with Texas Tech without a player averaging double figures. Its leading scorer is freshman Eron Harris, and his late-season rush has raised his scoring average to 9.9 points a game.

That means that to get to 10.0 he must score 14 points against Texas Tech. This is not to say that WVU could not beat Texas Tech as they did earlier in the season — by two points, at home — which would allow him to play on.

But there is a chance that the season could come to an abrupt end right there and if he were to fail to reach a double-figure average he would be the first Mountaineer to lead in scoring without reaching double figures since Earl Allara averaged 9.5 in 1944.

To give you an idea of how long ago 1944 was, it was the year the Allies invaded Europe on D-Day. A gallon of gas cost 15 cents at the pump, an average house cost $3,450, a loaf of bread was 10 cents and an average American earned $2,400 a year.

Times were different and so was basketball, with nearly every able-bodied man off fighting the war and the two-handed set shot a standard in the game.

Yet here we are in 2013 and WVU is struggling to get one player to average double figures for the season, and the closest one is a freshman, no less.

Just having a freshman lead the team in scoring is rare. It hasn’t happened since Warren Baker led the Mountaineers as such in 1973 — 40 years ago.

All of this carries quite a message, mostly of how the upperclassmen played during this season and why WVU finishes with a losing record.

None of this should, however, diminish what Harris accomplished this year, for he has come out of the shadows to become the Mountaineers’ top scorer and more.

If you slip back to the preseason in your mind you will recall that the emphasis was on Deniz Kilicli, on the sophomores who were returning and on a group of transfers who were supposed to elevate WVU into contenders.

Freshmen?

They were supposed to sit and learn, play a small role and wait their turn.

They weren’t confident because they had little to be confident of, but Harris has come a long way.

“I’m doing a lot better. I’m where I need to be confidence-wise,” he said. “Goal-wise, I feel like I have a lot more responsibility now. I need to be a motivator. I need to be an example. I need to be a scorer, a defender, a facilitator. I need to stay positive so that when some of my teammates get negative, they can see me being positive. I need to be an energy guy.”

It is a lot to lay on a kid just out of high school who wasn’t being counted on at the start of the season.

Certainly he never expected the season to go as it has.

“I expected to be a backup, to come off the bench and shoot some J’s or something. I’m doing a lot more than I expected,” he said.

He’s doing it as well as can be expected. He plays with effort and energy, lacking only the kind of consistency that can only come with experience.

Harris understands just how this has worked out. He has gotten his points without really lighting it up with his shooting.

“I wouldn’t even call myself a shooter. I call myself a scorer,” he said.

He understands he has mostly suffered through the first halves, just as has the team, but he has learned that he has to do other things then to help.

“If I’m not warmed up in the half, I’m not surprised, I have to rebound it. I do have to do a better job of mixing my game up in the first half, to pump fake and go by guys instead of just jump shooting,” he said. “If my shot’s not dropping, I have to switch it up.”

Now if just the rest of this team can figure that out, things might change by next year.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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