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January 29, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Mountaineers are showing promise, poise

MORGANTOWN — It is beginning to happen for West Virginia.

Slowly.

But it’s happening.

There are no Hall of Famers out there and no one is thinking that this is a group on its way to the Final Four the way the Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones group was a few years back.

However, if you are paying attention to what’s happening, this is a team that is coming together, learning what it takes to win, finding ways to play better teams than they are close and able to find an upset here and there.

This road trip was a perfect example, the Mountaineers played the No. 11-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys to the wire before losing, then battled a Baylor team that earlier this season was ranked as high as No. 7, led them virtually all the way and found enough character to survive, 66-64, at the end.

They did it despite foul trouble, despite an inability to do much on the boards and despite playing in a foreign gymnasium.

All of that demands character, and that is what this team is beginning to build.

It’s what Coach Bob Huggins thought it possessed, but being a coach on a Hall of Fame path himself, he knows that it is something that must be molded and that is what he has worked on over and over all season long.

He is building the character through Juwan Staten, his junior point guard and a kid who has the emotional tools that are necessary to lead.

It was Staten’s heroics at the end that made the difference, a clutch baseline drive in which he went under the basket to break a 64-64 tie with a left-handed reverse layup unlike any you would have imagined him pulling out of his bag of tricks, banking the ball in with 3.1 seconds left.

Now when you consider the degree of difficulty in this shot, coming after he missed five of six free throws in an equally crucial situation, you understand that this is not an athlete with a conscience. Indeed, if there was any pain left over from the misses, he put them aside for the key moment in the game and what might turn out to be the key moment in the season.

See Staten, as the point guard, made entire difference in this game, not just via the shot that won it.

How did WVU win this game?

All you had to do was go to the secondary statistics in the box score to discover what made the difference.

West Virginia scored 18 points off turnovers and, with Staten making every right pass, gave up none.

They forced 17 turnovers by Baylor while committing only six of their, one by Staten to go with his nine assists.

When you are in that kind of control of the flow of the game, especially when you are playing as WVU was with its big men in never-ending foul trouble, you are dictating your will upon your opponent.

Buried on the boards in the first half while Kevin Noreen and Brandon Watkins fouled out and while Devin Williams sat through most of the first half after getting two quick fouls, WVU had to arch its back and keep the beating it would take on the boards from turning this victory into a defeat.

Making eight 3-point shots was crucial, although the 3-point shooting wasn’t great.

“We didn’t shoot it very well for us,” Huggins said. “Eron had a bad day. Terry didn’t shoot well and Remi shot it very sporadically. Those are our best three shooters.”

Dibo upset Huggins big time by failing to rebound on some free throws and Huggins said that while Dibo had made a couple of 3s he wasn’t sure it was worth it for the work he did on the boards and thought about not playing him in the second half.

“Give the kid credit,” the coach said. “He came to me, and I’m on him pretty good at half time, and said, ‘Coach, give me another chance. If I don’t rebound, I understand. Just give me a chance’ and I thought he played much better in the second half.”

And so WVU took down a victory.     

“Let’s take this one and let’s go home,” Huggins said. “Seems like we’ve been gone a long time.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter at @bhertzel.

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