By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Bob Huggins and his staff had spent long, intense hours studying a Baylor team that was slipping as it headed for West Virginia University and Wednesday night’s game.
It was a team that had been having troubles of its own, and Huggins was trying to find something that might work for his team.
He came up with a different offense than he had run in the past while, at the same time, started a different group of players.
“I’ve tried everything other than putting a peach basket up,” he said.
It almost worked, too, as it set freshman Eron Harris off on a career-high 25 points and let the Mountaineers carry a lead into the second half, before finishing the same old way, losing 65-62 as point guard Juwan Staten’s 3-point shot to tie was partially blocked and fell harmlessly short.
The new offense, the new lineup added up to a new approach.
“We played hard. If there’s such a thing as feeling better, I feel better because we did play hard,’’ Huggins said. “I got all the pouters out of there and let them sit on the bench and pout.’’
Huggins didn’t name his “pouters,” but Aaric Murray played only four minutes after starting and Jabarie Hinds, who had started all but two games, played just six minutes.
Those who played went after Baylor.
“I’m kind of proud of our guys. We just put in a new offense yesterday,” Kevin Noreen said after the game. “It’s really just ball screens, hand-offs, back cuts, dribble hand-offs, and I think it was pretty effective tonight. We had a lot of looks at the basket; we had a lot of good, open shots. Didn’t convert many of the open shots, but we got those layups and good looks with Turk (Deniz Kilicli) inside.”
In the end, though, it came down to balls not dropping.
Kilicli had his looks but went 1-for-7 from the floor, and when WVU was gunning from outside, it managed to make just 3-of-17 from 3-point range.
“It gave us better movement,” Huggins said. “It’s the same old thing. They don’t guard a couple of our guys, and we haven’t done a good enough job of making shots. We get shots. It’s not like we don’t get shots.”
West Virginia’s inability to make shots had allowed defenses to drop off down low and make life difficult inside without worrying about the outside players hurting them. The new offense brought the big men out, Noreen even hitting a 3 and just missing another, and opening up lanes to the basket or mid-range jumpers.
Critics — and when you are 13-15 there are critics everywhere — have found thousands of other things wrong with the Mountaineers … their passing is bad, they don’t play hard, they can’t guard, etc., etc., etc.
The fact of the matter is, though, that the thing that has held them back is their inability to make shots.
For example, the past two games, Harris, who has to score for them to have a chance, was slumping, scoring just two and four points.
He came out of it against Baylor, yet …
“It’s the end result that matters, so regardless of how I played we still didn’t reach the goal that we were trying to reach,” the freshman said.
And one reason was that when he had a chance at the end of the game to hit a 3, he missed, too.
Kilicli had set him a solid screen, which he used to get the look.
“I was supposed to go backdoor, but they played the backdoor, so I backed off,” Harris said. “Initially I felt open, but I thought I was too deep so I stepped in. But I can shoot it deep. I probably should have just shot it. It’s a key shot I didn’t make.”
If that was a mistake, it was about the only one of consequence that Harris made as he emerged as the player Huggins has been waiting to see.
In truth, as you look at this WVU team, if it can get Harris and Terry Henderson, a pair of freshmen, to take over the scoring load from the outside, the Mountaineers have the basis of a solid team in the future, which is all WVU is playing for at present.
As Kilicli, a senior, put it, “I’m not going to be here next year. Neither will a lot of people.”
Considering that there are few seniors and fewer players capable of declaring for the NBA, that means Huggins will be running off the players who have let him down this year.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.