By Tom Bragg
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University fought tooth and nail to put visiting Oral Roberts away Friday at the Coliseum.
The Mountaineers defeated the Golden Eagles, 78-71, but the result was in doubt until the very end.
Warren Niles hit a 3-pointer in front of the ORU bench to cut the West Virginia lead to just one at 72-71 with a little more than two minutes to play, and the more than 8,000 fans in the Coliseum collectively held their breath. The Golden Eagles had trailed by as many as 12 several different times in the game and fought back to keep things interesting.
Trailing 74-71, Oral Roberts failed to score on two possessions in the final minute before a Kevin Jones rebound and Darryl “Truck” Bryant foul shots put West Virginia up five with less than 30 seconds to play.
ORU had its chances in the final half minute, but could not make anything happen against West Virginia’s 1-3-1 defense. More Bryant foul shots closed the game for WVU.
“We survived,” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said.
WVU started two freshmen, Keaton Miles and Jabarie Hinds, along with returning players Kevin Jones, Deniz Kilicli and Bryant. Miles and Bryant both got in foul trouble in the first half, forcing Huggins to go digging into his bench full of first-year Mountaineers.
Huggins said he saw both good and bad from the freshmen in their West Virginia debuts.
“They played like freshmen,” he said. “They played really well at times, really hard at times. Then they took plays off and were not very assertive. They forgot their assignments. We played 1-3 with a chaser, which I have never seen before, instead of a 1-3-1.”
One of those freshman, Hinds, said he felt a few butterflies running out on the carpet in his first game for West Virginia.
“I was a little nervous in the beginning,” Hinds said. “After a few minutes I was cool though.”
Hinds finished with nine points and five assists. Jones was the leading scorer for WVU, finishing with 20 to go with eight rebounds. In all, four Mountaineers scored in double figures including Jones. Kilicli had 11, Bryant 17 and freshman Aaron Brown contributed 10. Fellow freshman Gary Browne almost joined that group, scoring nine to go with a team-high six assists.
Bryant spent most of the first half on the bench, picking up three fouls in the opening half. That left much of the guard duty up to inexperienced players.
“I know we didn’t play well tonight, but I liked the energy we had,” Bryant said. “We don’t know how to put anybody away yet. That’s something that comes with time with a lot of freshmen. I blame a lot of it on myself. I did a poor job tonight getting myself in foul trouble and leaving them out there.”
Jones said Oral Roberts’ press in the second half caused the Mountaineers some problems, especially with all of the youth on the floor for WVU.
“Their press wasn’t the most aggressive press, but it sped us up a little bit, and the freshmen made some key mistakes,” Jones said. “It’s youth — youthful mistakes we’re going to have to go over and learn from. I’d rather learn from a win than a loss any day.”
The Mountaineers return to the Coliseum on Tuesday for an unusual 10 a.m. start against Kent State as part of ESPN’s 24-hour televised basketball marathon. When asked about the early game, Huggins replied that there were many things WVU had not done as a basketball team.
“We haven’t played on a boat yet,” Huggins said.
Mountaineer fans got a brief scare in the second half when Jones went down hard on the floor after running in to an Oral Roberts player. Jones said he went knee-to-knee with someone and it caused him a brief moment of pain.
“My knee gave out for just a little second,” Jones said. “But I’m fine, there’s no need to worry.”
Email Tom Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org.