By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
To the 14,070 fans who pushed, shoved and elbowed their way into the sold-out Coliseum on Saturday afternoon for the Big East scrimmage session between West Virginia University and Cincinnati, freshman Gary Browne’s ability to sink a game-tying 3-point shot to send the game to overtime was a rather shocking event.
If it had been Kevin Jones, who was in the midst of a fifth consecutive 20-point game with 26 points, it would not have at all been surprising, for Jones has been Mr. Clutch all season. And even if had been senior guard Truck Bryant, who had suffered through a dismal day at the office, it would not have been shocking, as he has experience taking and hitting crucial shots.
But this was Gary Browne, a player they have yet to come to know and love, hitting the most crucial shot of his young career and probably of the season, setting the stage for the Mountaineers’ 77-74 overtime victory, their third overtime triumph in four overtime games this year.
In fact, the only person in the whole joint who wasn’t surprised that Browne took — and made — the biggest shot of the day was ... Gary Browne.
“In Puerto Rico, I take that shot all the time,” he said, referring to his native land of Puerto Rico. “Nobody knows me like that, because no one goes to Puerto Rico and watches me. But back home I take that shot, and I always guard the best player. This time I did a great job defending. I’m going to get better, and I will do everything to win because I love winning.”
The truth is, this may be remembered as the game where the Mountaineers came of age. All year they had talked about the team’s youth, about playing seven freshmen, and it was simply assumed that Jones and Bryant and Deniz Kilicli were the glue holding the team together.
But Browne and his freshman running mate at guard, Jabarie Hinds, made huge strides forward in this one and had to make up for Bryant’s 2-for-16 shooting day that including missing all eight of his 3-point attempts.
Hinds finished with 12 points, four assists and three steals, along with five rebounds, while Browne’s line had him scoring 13 and grabbing off nine rebounds.
But of all the stats, Browne was proudest of one not yet mentioned, one that showed he is maturing and figuring out what this college game is all about.
“I had no turnovers this game. That was the best thing because games are decided on turnovers. Even if you have one turnover, it can be the one that beats you,” Browne said.
The truth is that Browne has become a dynamic part of the package that coach Bob Huggins has put together, a player who can pass and who can shoot and who can rebound, but more important a player who has this uncanny ability to get to the ball.
Two plays by Browne may have had as much effect as the 3-point shot that took victory away from Cincinnati. The first came in the first half when Browne hustled out of bounds to save a loose ball, flipping it back into play then sprinting to the other end to take a pass and hit a driving layup and draw a foul at the end of a fast break.
The second play came moments later when he went pinwheeling down the sideline in front of the TV announcers, end over end, head over heels, again making a spectacular save that did not put anything but style points on the scoreboard and got the crowd completely immersed in the activities.
Browne launched his body completely out of control on this play, fearing not what might happen.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “You never know what is going to happen tomorrow, so every time I step on the court I am going to give 100 percent. My family is home in Puerto Rico watching from home. They always have confidence in me.”
The day started on a high note with center Deniz Kilicli, who had missed the Marshall game with an ankle sprain, in the starting lineup and bouncy enough to grab off the first rebound of the day. In all, he played 38 minutes, scored 13 points, had seven rebounds and five assists.
The battle, as always between Huggins and his former school, was taut and tense and physical, going into the final seconds of regulation.
West Virginia was down 3 after a Cashmere Wright floater in the lane and two free throws, setting the stage for one last play by WVU. This would be Browne’s 3-pointer.
“The play was for Truck. He wasn’t open, then it was supposed to be K.J.,” Browne said. “I can go one on one so I throw it to K.J., Deniz sets a screen and K.J. passes it back to me and I make the shot.”
Simple as that, Browne said.
“In that situation you need a guy who really wants it. We’ve got K.J.; we’ve got Truck. K.J. makes big shots. If you look at the tape, to get the lead by three he made that shot and got the rebound,” Browne said.
After Browne scored, Cincinnati got the ball down the court and got a layup out of Dion Dixon, but he somehow missed it. The rebound went to Keaton Miles, who threw it to Bryant, who would have had a shot at winning the game right there had he not lost it.
“The only thing I was thinking was I have to get the ball back,” Bryant said
There was a wrestling match and a controversy over the clock, the officials eventually deciding that time had expired, setting up overtime.
“I saw the clock so I already knew,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said of the confusion. “I would like to get an explanation on why there wasn’t a foul called when Dion Dixon got tackled when he got the loose ball.”
There was no explanation coming, only five more minutes of basketball, and during the overtime WVU ground Cincinnati down and won it.
NOTES: WVU’s Kevin Jones had 26 points and 13 rebounds, giving him 13 double-doubles in 20 games this season and five 20-point games in a row, the most since Da’Sean Butler had six 20-point games in a row in 2009. ... WVU has won five of its last six games and is tied for third in the Big East, a half game behind Georgetown. ... For the second straight game, WVU made 16 of 26 second-half shots.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.