By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
If West Virginia University’s basketball team were fishing rather than playing basketball, it probably would have thrown back the victory it gained against TCU, a winless team in the Big 12 that reminds you of the fact every time it goes up and down the court.
But when you have lost three consecutive games, as had the Mountaineers, and when you need that victory, no matter how unimpressive, to even your season record at 9-9 and to hopefully inspire you on some kind of run that can get you into the postseason, you treat the victory as if it were a trophy fish.
The score of 71-50 at least was something to brag about, although everyone who was involved in the game from freshman Eron Harris, who led with 19 points while making five of six shots from the field, to senior Deniz Kilicli, who had his first extended and satisfying playing time since Texas, knew it was hardly a thing of beauty.
Kilicli scored 11 points and had eight rebounds while working hard, but there was a negative, too, as he simply could not make a layup, made but 1 of 4 free throws and had three turnovers.
“For a positive, that is as active as Deniz has been in a long time,” coach Bob Huggins said. “I thought he was really active. He hard hedges ball screens well, and he did a lot of positive things aside from missing layups. He did a lot of positive things defensively and rebounded the ball better.”
In truth, Kilicli contributed the play that labeled the game for what it was, which was something of a farce, for he actually stole the ball around mid-court from guard Kyan Anderson and drove the length of the court as the crowd — or what was passing for it at 7,094 fans — roared as he went in for a breakaway dunk.
That played summed up the TCU ineptitude while lighting a fire under the Mountaineers.
“It does a lot for the team,” Kilicli said, “but not really for me.”
It was, Kilicli noted, the second time he had made such a play in his career, the other time coming against Rutgers, but he is so caught up in the season and the disappointment it has been to date that there is very little he can do at the moment to become ecstatic over his play or the team’s situation.
He understands that he had those problems missing layups and turning the ball over but he also understood it.
“I haven’t been playing much,” he said. “I’ve been sitting a long time, and when you do that things like that are going to happen on the offensive end. I’m just trying to find my rhythm.”
One might say that it was obvious from the start that WVU would find a way to win this game, even though Kilicli missed a couple of easy shots out of the gate, shots on which he felt he was fouled.
See, on the other end, TCU was doing its best Washington Generals imitation.
The first shot the Horned Frogs took was a short jumper from inside the paint that actually missed the rim by five feet and that was a better shot than the second one, which was a close layup that — if you aren’t sitting down, perhaps you should — actually went over the backboard.
That is not exaggeration for effect. In fact, that is not exaggeration at all.
Kilicli admitted that when he saw it he had to laugh.
“I thought, ‘Great. At least Huggs won’t yell at me,’” he said.
That West Virginia played hard in this one was important, that it won even more important.
“We just got mad and hungry,” said Harris, who now has three consecutive double-figure games after going six games in a row without reaching double figures.
By halftime WVU had a 13-point lead, and the Mountaineers stretched it to 21 points in the second half, but then TCU made a run at them, cutting it to 11 at 55-44.
Considering all that has happened with the Mountaineers in the recent past, there was cause for concern but a couple of nifty passes from unexpected sources, Kevin Noreen and Dominique Rutledge, led to layups by Juwan Staten and Kilicli and there was some breathing room again.
WVU’s defense forced 17 turnovers and the Mountaineers did dominate the offensive glass with 19 offensive rebounds to help them to a 42-30 rebounding edge. That gave them a 16-4 advantage in second-chance points.
WVU returns to action at Oklahoma State for a 1 p.m. game Saturday and then return home on Monday for a huge matchup with the Big 12’s premier team, Kansas.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.