By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Bob Huggins traded in what seemed a certain Brooks Brothers endorsement for a Gabriel Brothers endorsement, shedding his suit coat at halftime for his far less stylish but far more comfortable gray pullover.
Considering that wearing a suit coat in Brooklyn against Michigan didn’t do much for him and considering his West Virginia University team was down, 39-37, to Oakland at the half of this one, all he had to lose was style points by making the haberdashery move.
As anyone who knows me knows I do not believe that clothes make the man, but in this case clothes may make the coach for Huggins pushed a whole lot of right buttons in the second half of this game to walk away with the much-needed 76-71 victory.
That just backed up what he had said a day earlier in explaining how it usually is overrated by media, fans and even players who winds up in the starting lineup.
“It’s a big deal to you media guys, the fans and maybe a little to the players, but it isn’t who starts but who finishes,” Huggins said.
And, perhaps, what he’s wearing.
Huggins, for example, had started Deniz Kilicli, giving the big man another opportunity to break out of the funk he’s been in, but after a first half in which he played nine minutes, went 0-for-3 shooting, failed to grab a rebound and had a foul, he vanished along with Huggins’ sport coat.
While the coat was in the closet, Kilicli was on the bench and that left matters up to the likes of Keaton Miles, Dominique Rutledge and Aaric Murray to do the job up front.
And what a job they did.
In truth, this was one of those games that was destined to go down to the wire as the two teams looked each other in the eye and refused to blink.
Every time Travis Bader, the nation leader in 3-point shots, made a 3, right up until he finished his final one with 7 seconds left, WVU had an answer.
And it wasn’t exactly the answer you might expect.
Bader had 42 three-pointers entering the game while WVU, as a team, possessed 40 3s.
So whose 3s were the biggest?
Miles, who every so often finds the outside range. This time he hit two crucial 3s in a row — unlike Bader, he had only 3 all year coming in — giving WVU a 58-54 lead.
Each was popped from the corner and each got the biggest reaction of the crowd other than when Tavon Austin, the football star, was given the trophy for the national all-purpose player of the year during a timeout.
But then to call it a crowd might be stretching it, too, for with no students, a 4-5 team and Oakland as an opponent you wouldn’t exactly think it was Frazier vs. Ali in the Thrilla in Manilla.
Miles’ performance saw him wind up with 10 points, going 4-for-4 from the floor on a team that would shoot 52.9 percent.
How important is that? WVU is now 37-0 under Huggins when it shoots 50 percent or better.
Then there was the performance turned in by Murray, who stepped out of the doghouse and into the penthouse.
Left home from the trip to Brooklyn by Huggins because he’d not been exactly enthralled with conditioning drills, Murray turned in a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Again, it wasn’t how he started, because he hadn’t, but how he finished, making three of four free throws in the final 18 seconds to clinch the 76-71 victory.
And then there was Rutledge, who played only 13 minutes but they were an emphatic 13 minutes, his two field goals being power dunks that shouted out to Oakland that this was not going to be their night, not on the road in the Coliseum, where WVU is 63-3 against non-conference opponents in the last 10 years and has won 44 of the last 45 non-conference home games.
The victory was needed almost as much as Huggins needs a fashion consultant, evening the team’s record at 5-5.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.