By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Sometimes you can’t win, as TCU coach Trent Johnson learned Saturday afternoon as West Virginia University beat his Horned Frogs, 74-69, in the Big 12 opener for both teams.
As advertised, his is a much-improved team over a year ago and, as advertised, going into Fort Worth wasn’t an easy win for the Mountaineers, who are now 9-5.
In fact, with 7:56 left in the game point guard Kyan Anderson was charged with his fourth foul.
Of all the players TCU could lose, Anderson was the one who would hurt the most.
He is their engine, their heartbeat, so to speak. He controls the ball and often controls the ball game.
So here was Trent Johnson, caught in a difficult situation.
The “book,” as if there really was one, called for Johnson to take his best player out of the game and try and buy some time for four or five minutes, hoping to stay close and have him down the stretch.
Johnson, however, opted to gamble, leaving him in the game. The trouble with that gamble was that he was dealing with loaded dice. No matter how he rolled them, they were going to come up craps.
Less than a minute and a half later, WVU found itself off and running in transition.
Anderson tried to stop them.
The game was over right there.
“I wasn’t surprised he left Kyan in,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “They were trying to win. They thought the 2-3 zone would keep him in the game, but the foul came in transition.”
With Anderson out of the game, TCU was left with no one who could guard Mountaineer point guard Juwan Staten, and he began looking like Kobe Bryant playing against a CYO team.
Staten completely took over the game.
There had been many heroes earlier. Eron Harris had played through the flu that kept him from starting the game to score 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting as he lived up to his billing as the Big 12’s leading scorer.
Nathan Adrian, after a rocky start, took the game over in the final minutes of the first half, grabbing offensive rebounds, sinking baskets, turning up the defense with three steals and even going to the free-throw line and making free throws for the first time in his Mountaineer career.
You read that right. Adrian finally had a foul-shooting experience … and he sank both free throws.
Toss in 12 points and 8 rebounds from Devin Williams and it’s obvious that Staten had a lot of help along the way, but come crunch time he became Captain Crunch.
In a way, it is the way basketball is supposed to work. You have a lead late and you put the ball in the hands of your point guard, but this was exaggerated as Kyan Anderson sat helplessly watching from the bench, the only stat mattering to him being the five fouls even though he had scored 12 points, had four assists, four assists and a steal.
Over the final 8 minutes of the game, Staten scored 11 of WVU’s final 19 points and he scored the final nine, being the only Mountaineer to score in the 4:09 of the game.
“He had the ball the whole time – which is what we wanted,” Huggins said. “He does a great job of getting it into the lane and getting to the basket and he’s hard to stay in front of.”
“That’s the part of the game I look forward to the most,” Staten said. “I know the ball is going to be in my hands a lot, and I’ll be counted on to make the right plays. That’s what we needed there. We needed the right play. We needed to come down and have smart possessions when the game got close.”
It started with 4:09 to go when Staten made 1-of-2 free throws after having been fouled by Parrish to make it 66-62.
He followed that up with another 1-for-2 from the line to make it 67-62, but Parrish’s wide-open 3 cut the lead to a deuce, as shaky as it gets when you aren’t playing on your home floor.
But Staten worked his way into the lane for a jump shot to make it a four-point lead and shrugged off another TCU basket by just being too quick for anyone as he drove for yet another layup for a 69-65 lead.
TCU scored again to cut it to two points and when Staten actually missed an easy layup after going past his man for the fourth straight time down the floor TCU turned the ball over.
Staten still had another layup and free throw in him to clinch it, then fittingly scored the final basket after Terry Henderson made a spectacular block of shot, the ball rolling toward mid-court where Staten — who else? – ran it down and scored.
The game was as close as it was because TCU managed somehow to make its first seven 3-point shots, allowing them to take an early lead.
“Let’s be honest; they were 7-of-7 from 3, and that has not been their forte,” Huggins said. “They weren’t going to continue to make shots like they were making.”
They didn’t. The Horned Frogs made just two of their next 12 3s.
The victory put the Mountaineers at 1-0 in Big 12 play as they headed for Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, for Monday night’s second game on this two-game Texas swing to open the conference schedule.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.