WVU basketball: Harris makes believers out of West Virginia
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - So far, sophomore Eron Harris is doing just about everything he can to help West Virginia during games early this season.
He leads the team and is second in the Big 12 in scoring (21.1 points per game) and nobody in the conference has more field goal attempts (103), baskets (50), 3-point attempts (45) and made 3-pointers (24).
He's also led Bob Huggins' reinvigorated offense by staying on the floor and only committing nine fouls in 32.6 minutes per game.
"I'm taking more shots because I'm comfortable taking more shots," Harris said. "Coach Huggins has put me in a role to take more shots and I'm making them. I'm going to keep attacking and doing what my teammates need me to do."
Still, it might be what Harris is doing before and after the games that gives this season its shape for the Mountaineers, (5-2) who play host to Loyola (4-1) at 7 p.m. tonight at the Coliseum (Root Sports).
Take his preparation for last week's championship game loss to Wisconsin in the Cancun Challenge as an example. The Mountaineers and the Badgers were getting ready while Old Dominion and Saint Louis played the consolation game. Harris was off by himself.
"They had a practice gym and he was in there before the championship game shooting the ball pretty much the whole time the other game was going on," Huggins said.
Harris scored 27 points and made 7 of his 11 3-point shots. The Mountaineers returned to campus a day later and Harris helped organize a team meeting away from the coaches to make sure everyone was serious about the goals they'd set before the 70-63 loss to the 10th-ranked Badgers.
This is still a team that starts freshmen Devin Williams and Nathan Adrian and relies on junior college transfer Remi Dibo for a lot of points and many minutes off the bench, and Harris was careful to let people know he's still happy with the team and confident it can get back to the NCAA Tournament.
"I had a talk with the younger guys to let them know a basketball game is a basketball game, and when we need you we need you to play like you know how to play," Harris said. "Don't come out in big games and act timid. If you want to shoot the ball and you feel the shot, you should take the shot.
"We need guys to hit shots. Nathan Adrian, we need him to make shots to win games. I told him to go out and play with complete confidence. Same with Devin. Devin looked a little shaky to me."
The occasion meant that much to the Mountaineers, which meant it hurt just as much to come up short and know they had their chances to upset a highly ranked team. Afterward, Huggins said the team "had an opportunity here to get back on the map, to get WVU basketball back where it belongs and where it's going to be."
It didn't happen, but the Mountaineers don't believe it's out of their reach. Harris said the performance against Wisconsin made them believe it's a matter of time until they're ranked in the top 25 again. WVU hasn't been ranked since March 14, 2011.
"They're obviously a top-10 team because they hit shots down the stretch and got stops when the needed to get stops and they got the win and that's most important," Harris said. "That's why they're in the top 10. To me, we're a top-10 team. The only thing holding us back from being a top-10 team right now - I think we're playing better on defense consistently now - but what's going to take us over the top is rebounding and execution on offense.
"When we need buckets, we need buckets and we need to come down and know who to get the ball to and what to do."
WVU trailed Wisconsin by 17 points in the first half, but was back within four points a few times late in the game. The Mountaineers shot a higher percentage and made one more basket, but were also outrebounded 37-27 and missed 8 of 14 free-throw attempts.
"I really thought we'd win," Huggins said. "Obviously, we've got to rebound it better, but I never imagined as well as we shoot the ball that we couldn't make free throws. I never imagined that."
Wisconsin was by far WVU's best opponent, but also the start of a significant stretch that merely begins with the Greyhounds, who are led by Dylon Cormier and his 28.4 points per game - the second-highest average in the country.
The Mountaineers play Thursday at Missouri, play host to Gonzaga Dec. 10, play Marshall in Charleston Dec. 14 and play host to Purdue Dec. 22.
"We didn't execute and they went down and hit big shots because they did execute, maybe because they have more veterans on the floor who have played in big games and we have younger guys who haven't played in big games," Harris said. "We're going to play other big teams and the next time we play a big team, we'll be that much more mature because of that experience in Cancun."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.