By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The man his teammates call “Big Sweat” stood outside the West Virginia University locker room on Wednesday night, living up to his nickname. A post-game shower had eased some of the soreness from the bumps and bruises that come with 29 minutes of action in a victory over Marshall, but it could not shut down the sweat glands that had moved into overtime.
The experience had been a new one for Kevin Noreen since he left his native Minnesota and came to Morgantown, only to suffer a knee injury that required surgery seven games into his freshman season, turning that into a total wash as a medical redshirt.
While he healed and rehabbed in time to have helped at the end, the Mountaineers felt he and they would be best served by him just starting over anew this season, which he did.
But he was stuck behind the enigmatic Deniz Kilicli, the most famous Turkish import since Tunch Ilkin was playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kilicli is player with special skills, not the least of which is playing a guitar, and a captivating personality that makes him a fan favorite.
It helps, however, if he has two healthy legs, which was not the case when WVU played Marshall and may not be the cast due to a right ankle sprain when the Mountaineers meet Cincinnati in a key Big East game Saturday.
The injury occurred on Monday, at least that seems to be what the consensus is, although Huggins has trouble keeping up with the day of the week at this time of year.
“What’s today? Thursday? No, it’s Wednesday. He sprained it Monday,” he said, shaking his head at his own confusion. “For about three months I’m in a fog.”
With him out, the burden fell to Noreen, who knew about the injury two days earlier.
“It gave me two days to prepare and get my head right,” he said. “Deniz is a good player — a great player. He’s a big presence in the post. He complements K.J. (Kevin Jones), but anyone who takes his place has to step up.”
He must have done something right in that ol’ noggin of his, because he was an important element in the game, playing 29 minutes, which was more than he had ever played before. Early on he took it inside at Marshall’s bigger, more athletic players, and he fought and scratched at every opportunity, wearing the floor burns to prove it.
“I wanted them to know I would be aggressive,” he said.
In the end, he did such a good job that Marshall, No. 3 in the nation, was outrebounded for the first time by a team without Kilicli, the starting center.
“Maybe,” Huggins joked, “we shouldn’t play Deniz anymore.”
Do not look for Kilicli to become West Virginia’s Wally Pipp.
Still, WVU did play well without him, especially on the boards.
“We knew. We watched film. We knew how good they are rebounding the ball. If we get our guards to do what they did all the time …” Huggins voice trailed off with almost a wistful sigh.
Seconds later he began again.
“K.J. is going to get his. And Kevin (Noreen) did a great job … a great job.”
Huggins had demanded rebounding all week.
“We did blockout drills,” Huggins said. “I told them, ‘Don’t make me put you on the treadmill. You better have your behind on somebody because I don’t want to run you that much, but if we’re not going to do what I ask you to do we’re gonna run.’”
And so they blocked out … all week and into the game.
“There was no secret,” Jones said. “It was old-fashioned boxing out and keeping them on your backside, so the only way they can get it is to go over your back. I think everybody did pretty good five-man box out, because Marshall sends everyone to the glass. We did a really good job of boxing out.”
Noreen actually did more than just block out and rebound. He gave the Mountaineers a different look than Kilicli does.
“He gives something Deniz doesn’t give us. He passes the ball. He’s got a good understanding. He keeps the ball moving for us,” Huggins admitted.
Moving the ball against Marshall was crucial because they didn’t want to guard. That’s not to say they didn’t want to play defense. They didn’t mind blocking shots, but having to move with a man without the ball cutting toward the basket, that was another story.
Marshall wants to demoralize its opponent, and as tall and athletic as it is, can do that with most of the teams it plays. But WVU, at least for the time being, is in the Big East, and you don’t intimidate Big East teams, and you surely don’t beat them if you don’t guard.
So, with Kevin Jones getting all the shots he wanted, in part because the ball didn’t stop when it reached Noreen where it might have with Kilicli, who is more of a shooter, he was able to score 25 points, his fourth straight game of 20 or more.
And with Marshall not pressing out on the guards, Bryant was able to get off 20 shots, which is probably too many considering he made only seven of them, but with Bryant the stat that matter most is that he finished with 22 points because he is constantly attacking the lane.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/bhertzel.