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WVU basketball: Harris a bright spot for Mountaineers

Eron Harris is a few games away from doing something rare at West Virginia. The freshman guard leads the team in scoring. The last freshman to be the best scorer for the Mountaineers was Warren Baker in 1973.

Harris is seven-tenths of a point better than forward Deniz Kilicli and eight-tenths of a point better than center Aaric Murray.

There's bad news attached to that. While Baker averaged 16.6 points per game, Harris averages just 9.4. The last time WVU's leading scorer averaged fewer than 10 points per game was 1944, when Earl Allara averaged 9.5. With his current average, Harris would have the lowest to lead the team since Edwin Bartug scored 6.1 points per game in 1931.

The odds are with Harris to maintain his lead because of his margin and because of the unreliable productivity of Kilicli, Murray and Juwan Staten, who has slipped from 10.5 points per game on Jan. 5 to 8.3.

Yet Staten has taken on a more deferential role late in the season, totaling 36 assists and 10 turnovers the past eight games. He has 10 assists and one turnover in the past two games after the Mountaineers implemented an offense featuring screens and dribble handoffs.

Harris has taken 31 shots those two games, one fewer than he attempted in his most aggressive three-game stretch this season.

"Anytime you get him a little space, he's going to get a shot off and he's usually going to get a good look at it," Staten said. "It's our job as guards to get him open looks."

It's how Harris has evolved this season. He didn't start until the loss at Iowa State Jan. 16, but he's been in the starting lineup the past 14 games. He was averaging 5.4 points per game before he started and is averaging 13.2 as a starter. He's been in double figures 11 times in the 14 games and a team-high 15 times this season.

"Being a freshman is hard," said Staten, who led the Atlantic 10 in assists as a freshman at Dayton in 2011. "They usually hit a wall right now, but that hasn't happened with Eron. It seems like he keeps getting better as the season goes on."

Harris, though, is as frustrated as anyone else for a WVU team that is 13-16 overall and 6-10 in the Big 12 entering Wednesday's game at Oklahoma (19-9, 10-6).

"This is by far the hardest thing I've gone through athletics-wise," he said.

The 6-foot-2 Harris attended the extremely successful Lawrence North High in Indianapolis and believes his team his senior season was "by far" the best in the state. That team finished with an 8-12 record as Harris improved only slightly from his junior season numbers with 14 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

He's become the top scorer and most reliable shooter on a team that can't score and shoot consistently and is poised to again finish below .500. He's gone from a player who got the ball to a player who gets the ball passed to him. He's become the focus of his offense as well as the focus of the opposition's scouting report.

"Teams didn't guard him before," WVU Coach Bob 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."

The Sooners will actually get a third look at Harris at the Lloyd Noble Center, where they are 11-2 this season. Harris played just 3 minutes and missed both his shots in the Old Spice Classic in November and was then 1-for-8 and scored four points in 15 minutes in a home loss in January.

Seven of the other eight Big 12 teams have seen Harris twice and have mostly done a better job against him the second time.

  • Harris was 1-for-6 for three points against Texas Jan. 9. His 3-ponter nearly won the game in regulation before WVU won in overtime. The Longhorns held Harris to 3-for-10 shooting in the second game, though he managed 13 points in the win.
  • Harris was 2-for-3 for eight points in a home loss to Kansas State and then 0-for-2 and scoreless in just eight minutes as he memorably fouled out with a technical foul in the road loss.
  • Harris was 5-for-6 from the floor and 7-for-10 at the free-throw line for what was then a career-high 19 points in a home win against TCU. He went 5-for-10 and again made 2 of 3 3-point attempts to finish with 14 points in the second game.
  • Harris was 6-for-10 from the floor and 5-for-8 from 3-pont range for 17 points in a loss at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys held him to 1-for-7 shooting and six points in the loss at home.
  • Harris managed 19 points on 5-for-12 shooting in a win at Texas Tech and then had 15 points on 5-for-10 shooting in a win at home.
  • Harris set a career high with 19 points on 6-for-9 shooting at Baylor and then followed with another career high when he scored 25 points and went 10-for-13 at the foul line in a home loss to the Bears.
  • Harris was 0-for-5 and made two free throws in the home loss to Kansas and then shot 4-for-17 for 10 points in Saturday's loss.
  • "I've noticed that the second time I play a lot of teams about three or four guys guard me and switch to guard me throughout the course of the game," Harris said. "They guard me real close now and don't help off me as much. I've got to work harder to get open."

    *  *  *

    WVU IS guaranteed to finish seventh or eighth in the Big 12 standings. The Mountaineers, who are one game ahead of Texas in the standings with two games left, will play at 7 or 9:30 p.m. March 13 at Phillips Arena in Kansas City against Texas, Texas Tech or the No. 10 seed TCU. WVU is 6-0 against those three this season.

    Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 30-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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