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December 29, 2011

Truck’s career-night lifts WVU past ’Cats

MORGANTOWN — Kevin Jones looked like he’d been hit by a truck and Deniz Kilicli felt like he’d been run over by a truck, but it was Villanova that was destroyed by a Truck on Wednesday night in the Coliseum — a Truck named Bryant.

Senior guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant, playing what he called “my last first Big East game for the school,” lit Villanova up for a career-high 34 points and tossed in three assists, two steals and a blocked shot as the West Virginia Mountaineers opened Big East play with an 83-69 victory before 11,262 fans.

In many ways it was an amazing performance, for it started with Bryant playing like the rawest of freshmen, having the ball stolen from him on WVU’s first possession and missing a couple of 3-point shots badly and a couple of other shots before WVU could so much as score 3 1/2 minutes into the game.

“I think I had too much energy,” Bryant admitted.

So did Coach Bob Huggins, who yanked him at the 14:08 mark because “he didn’t run what I wanted him to run.”

He might have kept him out, too, except that moments later Villanova got an easy drive to the basket, a drive Bryant might have stopped, and Huggins sent him scurrying back onto the floor.

Seconds later, with WVU trailing 12-10, he took a pass from Kilicli, and rammed in a 3 and he was off and running ... not that anyone connected with WVU expected any less of him on this night.

“I knew he was ready,” Kilicli would admit. “After the Baylor game (a tough two-point loss in overtime), me and K.J. and Truck were sitting around and talking. We are always trying to get the best out of each other. I mean, the freshmen are learning, but right now we have to take care of each other. We three have got to get everything out there.”

See, this Big East basketball is different than anything the seven freshmen on the team had ever experienced, and you can try to explain it to them, you can show them tape, but they don’t know until they walk off the floor and check their bruises.

This is a black-and-blue league, a league in which basketball is played with bare knuckles.

Kilicli, for example, had a nerve problem in his hip that might have caused a lesser man to scratch, but this was the conference opener and he is a necessary part of the team.

So when he got his foot tangled and went crashing to the floor, naturally on his hip, it was painful, bothered his balance, made matters hurt worse than they had ... and they were hurting bad already.

“I took Ibuprofen but it did nothing, not even made my headache go away,” he said.

Later, hurting or not, he was in the game when Kevin Jones took an elbow into his eyebrow and went to the floor, blood gushing from the cut.

For a few moments Kilicli leaned over the fallen Jones, the Big East’s leading scorer and rebounder, as a trainer came out and attended to him as the arena was hushed. Slowly, he rose to his feet, a towel pressed against the cut eye, walking to the dressing room as the crowd gave him an appreciative ovation.

“He needs a little character,” Huggins would joke after the game. “He needs some scars on that babyface. I told him maybe he’s been able to get all those rebounds because he was fooling people with that baby face.

“But really, he’s one of us. He’ll be out there tomorrow.”

It was obvious, with Jones out, that WVU was confused and leaderless, with really only Bryant carrying the load until he returned.

Turned out, though, he’s pretty good at carrying a load.

“Truck Bryant was outstanding,” said Villanova’s fashion-conscious coach Jay Wright, who clearly outdressed Huggins but could not outcoach him. “We had no answer for him. We couldn’t guard him in man-to-man, and we tried to go zone and they did a great job of being patient until we lost him.”

As much as Bryant put the ball in the basket, his most telling play and probably most important play came at 4:27 left in the game and WVU leading 65-63. Bryant had just missed a 3-point shot and Villanova had grabbed the rebound and tried to start a fast break with a long pass down court.

Bryant was there to steal the pass, found freshman Gary Browne and zipped a pass to him, Browne canning a 3 to widen the gap to 68-63. From the moment Bryant made the steal, WVU outscored Villanova, 28-6.

“It was a big guy who made the pass,” said Bryant. “It’s always fun when big guys try to make passes down the floor. They can’t do that.”

Jones, despite his injury, had 13 points and seven rebounds, and the hobbling Kilicli had 10 points and eight rebounds to go with four assists as his passing just gets better and better.

The Mountaineers went to 10-3 for the season and hope to keep on “Trucking” with a game at Seton Hall coming up just 48 hours later, while Villanova fell to 7-6.

“A pretty good 7-6 team,” Huggins would say.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/bhertzel.

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