The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

December 16, 2013

Huggins puts Mountaineers on Staten’s back

MORGANTOWN — The history book on the Capital Classic, once John Antonik of the West Virginia University sports information department gets around to writing it, will make note that this year’s 43rd renewal will forever be known as “The Brandon Watkins Game.”

Surely, it is a compelling story of a freshman who had been struggling, his playing time cut to just two minutes over the past two games, coming off the bench to rescue West Virginia with a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds in a come-from-behind 74-64 victory over in-state rival Marshall.

The truth is, indeed, that it was Watkins who filled in the missing ingredient, giving the Mountaineers someone on the inside upon whom they could rely to not only score some points and get some rebounds, but to change some of Marshall’s shots and turn baskets into misses.

But, in the final analysis, as it has been all year, the man behind the victory was West Virginia’s clever point guard, Juwan Staten.

It is difficult to imagine just how badly West Virginia played early in the game.

Coach Bob Huggins tried to explain it with a simply declarative statement:

“It was not a work of art,” he said.

It was a message he even relayed to one of the officials in the midst of the game.

“I told one of the officials, ‘If I ever had a team play worse, I swear to God, I can’t remember when.’ We couldn’t do anything right. We didn’t catch the ball; we couldn’t pass the ball; we didn’t rebound the ball.’”

And, the first half, Staten was at the center of that, although as they say, misery loves company, and Staten had plenty of that.

By halftime Staten had a season-high five turnovers. This team that had been averaging 9 turnovers for the season had already committed 11.

Eron Harris, the go-to man on offense, couldn’t score, and Remi Dibo was just as bad while Kevin Noreen was playing as if he’d never seen a college basketball game before.

If it was going to get on track, it would have to be Staten who engineered the turnaround, and what a job he did, considering that for most of the night he had been engaged head-to-head with Marshall’s own clever freshman point guard Kareem Canty.

“Every player that thinks highly of himself, that’s that player’s dream, to be in a tough game, playing against another tough player and have the team on your back,” Staten said. “You can’t ask for really more than that.”

That is exactly how it played out, for in the end, the team and the game rested on Staten’s back.

“We couldn’t get out of our own way today. That’s a tribute to Juwan Staten. He was terrific, absolutely terrific. He does a lot of things for us,” Huggins said.

It was an atypical typical Juwan Staten game – 19 points, four assists, six rebounds on the typical side, those five turnovers on the atypical side before halftime.

And there was defense, even after throwing a shoe.

“Over on the bench someone said Juwan guarded better with one shoe on than you guarded in your career,” Huggins joked with radio analyst Jay Jacobs, a player from another place in time at WVU.

But the fact of the matter was that the key change in the game was at the 4-minute mark when Huggins decided to go to a 1-3-1, something that features Staten’s defense and that took Marshall out of what it had been doing so successfully, and that was getting loose in the lane.

Why, first of all, did Huggins wait until so late in the game to bring the defense out.

“It’s two things,” he said. “One, I don’t like to play it in the first half because I don’t want to go in and get on the board and try to fix things. More important than that, because of who we have to have in the game to do it.

“Juwan Staten can’t run around like that the whole game and do what he does on offense. He just can’t run around like that and then do all the things we ask him to do.”

Sometimes great coaches know what’s right, know what will work, but have to show some patience and even test whether or not the players are ready to make the move.

That’s how this worked.

“The guys ask, ‘Can we extend it?’ I say wait until under 4 minutes. As soon as we went to under 4 we went to it and it really kept them out of the lane,” Huggins said. “I wanted to get into it; they wanted to get into it. We had a timeout and Juwan said, ‘Do we want to change? Do we want to give them a 1-3-1 look?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know.’

“I asked to Staten and Eron Harris and they said they wanted that.”

How can you say no at a time like that?

If the defense changed the flow of the game, one other change was made to get the offense in gear in the second half.

“We kept it Juwan’s hands more, I think,” Huggins said.

Despite the fact that Gary Browne, who backs up Staten while also playing the off-guard, was having a perfect night with 5-for-5 shooting, including a pair of 3s, Huggins put the team on Staten’s back.

“He works so hard and wants to be a good player so bad,” Huggins noted.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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