CHARLESTON — Early in Sunday’s 69-66 victory over Marshall in the annual Capital Classic, senior guard Juwan Staten shot a pass to an open Jevon Carter, expecting him to pull the trigger.
“He passed it up,” Staten recalled.
That wouldn’t do.
“I said, ‘Let it go. This is your gym,’” Staten recalled saying to him. “He came in and scored 28 points the last time he was here. He’s familiar with these rims and should have a lot of confidence in these rims, not only for this game but for the games to come.
“We need his outside shooting. We want him to shoot every time he’s open.”
That 28-point performance against VMI in the Charleston Civic Center was supposed to be Carter’s coming-out party, the game that would send him off on a scoring spree.
He went back to being a freshman, timid with the basketball, not willing to take the shot when open.
He scored two points the next game with 0-for-5 shooting from the field, no points on 0-for-3 shooting from the field the next game and three points on 1-of-5 shooting from the field the next game.
That’s just five points in three games, one field goal in 13 tries … but the one thing he couldn’t be allowed to do was back off, and that was Staten’s point.
And so it was Carter began finding his range, popping away. He took 12 shots, made five of them, one a tying basket at the buzzer at the end of the first half. While he wasn’t accurate in the second half, the fact that he was willing to shoot and score nine points made Marshall guard him.
The moral behind this?
Perhaps just that freshmen are freshmen and seniors are seniors, and it’s important to have seniors like Staten and Gary Browne, who had his best game of the season, to guide their freshmen through the rough times and point them in the right direction for the rest of their careers.
This is especially true with seniors like Staten and Browne, two guys who put the team first.
Staten, taken out in this one for a long stretch in the second half, could have pouted. Instead, he waited and watched, learned how the game was going and was ready when he was put back in with the game on the line.
And that the game was still on the line with him out for seven minutes says a lot about the team with which he is surrounded.
“We have a lot of guys who have a lot of fight in them. We have a lot of competitors. Every day we bring it. We compete in practice and I’m glad to see it carries over into the game,” Staten said.
With him out, Browne had to pick up the load and he did just that, scoring 10 points and coming up with one of the plays of the game, leaping high to steal an outlet pass that would have led to a dunk at the other end, bringing the ball into the front court and canning a jumper.
His ability to run the team when Staten is out or to play the off guard when Staten is in the game is important.
“It’s just experience. Three years, I’ve been playing the one and the two and the three. You learn a lot,” he said. “He got me as a backup. I go into the game and whatever we need to do. If it’s get someone open, get us a play, I can do it.
“I do what I got to do. I bring my experience. I bring my energy. I bring everything to the table that can make us win.”
The way WVU is playing this year, full court pressure for 40 minutes, will wear on anyone, so keeping Staten fresh is a big part of what WVU is going to have to do … and he was ready when called back into the game with 4:14 left and WVU leading 58-57.
Right off the bench Staten pushed the ball up the court with some deft dribbling, attacked the lane, then dished perfectly to Jonathan Holton for the layup.
“I sat a little while, so I watched how the game was going. I saw how we were getting the momentum and they were getting timid, especially on the defensive end, so I thought when I got in, I should attack them,” he said.
Next time down the court, he hit a jumper to give WVU some breathing room, breathing room they would need at the end.
Those two plays were classic Staten.
“I’m a basketball player. I’m going to play the way I play, regardless whether we’re up 20, down 20 or the game is on the line,” he said. “When I got put back in the game, I played the way I play.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel