If Terry Henderson were Jewish, Saturday in the Coliseum would have been his bar mitzvah for it surely was the day he became a man in basketball terms.
A sophomore just like Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, far less heralded, to be sure, Henderson had to open the eyes of the five NBA scouts in attendance to check on Smart’s abilities as he slugged it out with him eyeball to eyeball.
The statistics that came out of this devastating 73-72 West Virginia loss to the Cowboys give you some idea of what those scouts looked at.
FG-FGA 3PT FT-FTA Reb A Blk St TP
Henderson 7-13 5-7 2-2 6 4 3 2 21
FG-FGA 3PT FT-FTA Reb A Blk St TP
Smart 8-15 3-5 3-4 13 5 1 1 22
Call it a push.
True, the scouts did get to see Smart show off his goods at crunch time, grabbing off a key offensive rebound on a missed free throw down the stretch, then unselfishly make the pass that set up Markel Brown for the game-winning 3.
It was two big-time plays, but do you know why they were necessary?
Check out West Virginia’s last points in the game. Trailing 70-69 with just 1:17 on the clock, Henderson unleashed a deep 3 that seemed to be a tad short. It kicked off the front of the rim, bounced again and then dropped softly through for the shot that gave WVU a 72-70 lead and almost an upset of the nation’s 11th-ranked team.
It was a sign of how the day had gone for Henderson.
He was everyone’s hero, doing things you really hadn’t seen from him in two years.
“Is that what I recruited him to do?” said WVU coach Bob Huggins when asked if this was the kind of game he was waiting for out of Henderson. “Yes. He’s always made shots and he’s got good bounce, so he ought to be able to rebound it, he ought to be able to block shots and do some things.”
Perhaps the most stunning part of his game on Saturday was the way he blocked three shots.
These were not just blocks. They were in-your-face, take-that-dude rejections.
The crowd oohed and aaahed with each of them, and the scouts had to look at each other and wonder who had been keeping this a secret.
Henderson had started the season injured and has been catching up slowly. The last few games the scoring has come around, having reached double figures in eight of the last nine games.
Oh, he’s had some shooting problems, as Huggins has pointed out, 2 of 10 against Purdue and 3 of 10 against Purdue, but right now he’s en fuego.
Against Texas Tech he went 4 for 6 from 3 and against Oklahoma State it was 5 of 7, so that’s 9 of his 13 3-point shots.
And, as surprised as the crowd and the media is – to say nothing of the scouts – is as unsurprised as his teammates are.
“He’s started playing like he could,” said point guard Juwan Staten. “We see him every day. You guys only see him in games. This is what he does every day in practice.”
With Henderson scoring, playing defense and, most important, rebounding to go with Staten’s all-around guard play and Eron Harris’ potential to score 20 or more in any game, WVU becomes a tough out in the Big 12.
“Juwan Staten, Eron Harris ad Terry Henderson are some of the better guards in the conference,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “They are very tough to defend against.”
The truth is as Harris and Henderson mature through this year and if Staten comes back next year, added to Devin Williams and Brandon Watkins down low with Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon, this has the makings of a team that could be a contender in the Big 12 next season.
And when you consider how far it has come from last year’s losing season, it offers great hope for a program that could have gone the other way.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel