WVU basketball: Freshman spearheads Mountaineer victory
MORGANTOWN - By halftime Wednesday night, there really wasn't much drama let in the Coliseum. That had been addressed by the opening 20 minutes, which saw West Virginia weather the comedy and tragedy of TCU to take a 13-point halftime lead toward a 71-50 victory.
It was the first halftime lead in five games and the first of the calendar year for the Mountaineers, who would only leave people wondering how close they'd let the Horned Frogs get in the second half.
The answer was 11 points as WVU's lead that stood at 49-28 was whittled to 55-44 and another double-digit advantage was in peril, as it was against Eastern Kentucky and Oklahoma, the aforementioned opponents that trailed WVU at the half.
The Mountaineers scored 10 of the next 12 points and cruised to a lead as large as 22 points the rest of the way to finish off the victory before 7,094. The three-game losing streak has come to an end and Coach Bob Huggins was spared matching the only four-game slide in his coaching career.
This is not to say he was a happy man.
"I guess after all these years I learned that you don't give them back when you win one, but I'm not very happy," said Huggins, who lost seven in a row in the 1984-85 season at Akron, his first as a Division I coach. "I thought we played real hard and I thought defensively we did things we've done for a long time in the first half. The second half, we stopped guarding, which has been kind of what we do."
The Horned Frogs (9-10, 0-6 Big 12) entered the game at the bottom of the conference and national rankings in most important offensive categories - namely points per game - which goes a long way to explaining a six-game losing streak. They shot 50 percent after halftime - which was also their percentage from the foul line in the second half.
Once ahead 21 points with 12:35 to go, WVU (9-9, 2-3) had two turnovers, fouled six times and shot 2-for-5 from the floor and 0-for-3 at the foul line. TCU was 5-for-7 from the floor and 3-for-3 at the free-throw line to take 10 points off the lead in 4:30.
"I'm disappointed the second unit we brought off the bench in the second half didn't play very well, didn't play very hard," Huggins said. "We have to have five guys playing the same way for that pressure to do what it's supposed to do. We can't have one guy standing staring at the ball."
Five players scored WVU's final 16 points, including two of the team's five 3-pointers from freshmen Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, while TCU had just eight points the final 8:05.
"We get lax, that's what happened," Harris said. "We can't do that. That's what I was telling the team. We can't get lax. We've got to play like it's 0-0 at all times. It's college - and it's not like I've been playing college ball for a long time. But everybody knows people can make a run, so we can't get lax. That's something we've still got to learn."
Harris had his third straight game in double-figures with 19 points on 5-for-6 shooting. He had 14 points in the second half, when he repeatedly cut to the basket and drew fouls. He was 7-for-10 at the foul line in the game and 6-for-8 in the second half.
"We saw if we made hard cuts, they were grabbing us and (the officials) were calling that foul," said Harris, who upped his scoring average to from 5.4 to 7.2 points per game the past three games. "We were aiming to cut really hard and have those guys try to guard us. We got to the foul line, but now we've got to make the free throws."
The Mountaineers were 16-for-31 at the free-throw line, but that was covered up by a fairly wide dispersion of scoring. Deniz Kilicli shook off a rough start by scoring 11 points and Jabarie Hinds added 10. Aaric Murray scored eight points and Juwan Staten and Aaron Brown both added six as those three helped WVU's bench outscore TCU's 29-22.
Kilicli, who was 0-for-3 from the floor and 1-for-2 at the foul line and committed a turnover in the opening 3:32, finished 5-for-10 and added eight rebounds in 22 minutes. The Mountaineers outrebounded TCU 42-30.
"That's as active as Deniz has been in a long, long time," Huggins said. "He was active on the floor. He hard-hedged ball screens well. He did a lot of positive things, aside from missing layups."
Kyan Anderson led TCU with 19 points. Connell Crossland added 11 points and Adrick McKinney had 10. Even with the second-half surge, the Horned Frogs shot just 38.6 percent for the game and were held below even their meager scoring average. They were ranked No. 344 nationally out of 345 in points per game (54.8).
It was bad from the start for them, too. TCU air-balled jump shots and layups in the early moments, but led 8-4. The Mountaineers pressed after made baskets or stoppages to speed up the TCU offense that liked to take its time. On three straight possessions, TCU turned the ball over in transition and the Mountaineers capitalized with dunks or layups.
The Horned Frogs committed 10 turnovers in the first half that counted for 12 of WVU's 35 points. They finished with 17 turnovers.
"I hope this gets everyone on the same page guarding like this," Kilicli said. "I think our defense gave us the edge. Normally, they keep people (scoring) low, but we guarded them and sped them up and didn't let them run what they wanted to run and we got extra chances."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.