By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
If West Virginia is going to have any chance to upset Oklahoma in tonight’s 9 o’clock game, freshman Eron Harris is going to have to play better against them than he has this year.
This is a rare third regular season meeting between two conference teams, WVU having lost to the Sooners, 77-70, for third place in the Old Spice Classic in November and then Oklahoma ruined the Mountaineers’ first Big 12 Conference game on Jan. 5, taking a 67-57 decision at the Coliseum.
WVU enters the game with a 13-16 record, 6-10 in Big 12 play. If they lose they will be the first Bob Huggins team to lose five straight games. He lost four in a row previously in his first year as a Division I coach at Akron in 1984-85.
To end the streak, his team will have to shoot better than it has been doing and that means that freshmen Terry Henderson and Harris, the two shooting threats, will have to have big games.
Henderson is coming off a 20-point performance in a 91-65 loss at Kansas, a game in which Harris had 11 points. The previous game, against Baylor, Harris scored a season-high 25 points.
Those two first-year players have been the only real scoring threats all season, but against Oklahoma, Harris has been dreadful, hitting just one of 10 shots in the two games.
Now it’s true that they were early season games, before he had built his confidence and before Huggins had confidence in him, but it’s obvious that WVU needs him to at least provide some kind of scoring threat to take pressure off Deniz Kilicli down low and give the Mountaineers a balanced offense.
“Teams didn’t guard him before,” Huggins said. “He was the guy you helped off of. Now they can’t help off of him. He has been a focal point of everybody’s game preparation.”
Harris has taken over as WVU’s top scorer this year, although you won’t hear him bragging about it even though should he hang on to that he would be the first freshman to lead WVU in scoring since Warren Baker in 1973.
Baker, however, averaged 16.6 points a game while Harris doesn’t even average double figures, averaging 9.5 points a game.
You have to go back to 1944 to find the last time WVU had no player average double figures, and to 1931 to find a year when someone led the team in scoring averaging less than 9.5 points a game, that being Edwin Bartug at 6.1 points a game.
No wonder they called those years the Great Depression.
Harris figures to see his average rise as he has become the man WVU is asking to shoot the ball. He has shot the ball 31 times in the past two games.
Interestingly, WVU has not found a way to get both Henderson and Harris hot at the same time, which has made it difficult for them to score 70 points in a game.
It’s been Feb. 2 since WVU has reached 70 points, and during that span the Mountaineers have won only three of eight games.
One of the major problems has been that the freshmen scorers have had little help from the sophomores.
“I’m not trying to say this as a negative, but our sophomores have shot 10-12 percentage points lower than a year ago and we didn’t get the impact from the transfers,” Huggins said.
The result is that WVU is shooting just 40.1 percent for the year, which is not good enough to win the Big 12.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.