WVU basketball: Freshmen behind recent success for Mountaineers
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Jabarie Hinds peeked out of the corners of his eyes to the right toward teammate Terry Henderson, likely still suspicious of what he witnessed from the freshman in Saturday afternoon's win against TCU.
Henderson, who had 16 points the previous two games and 19 in the four before that, made all five of his shots in Saturday's first half for 15 points.
His teammates were 5-for-14 and managed 16 points.
"We might have gotten shut out in the first half if it weren't for him," Coach Bob Huggins said.
Henderson's form was so pure, his confidence so certain, that his shots didn't mess with the rim and barely bothered the net on the way to the floor.
It didn't matter if it was one of his three 3-pointers, two free throws or a jump shot he smoothed out after curling around a screen at the top of the key. Even a layup, contested at the rim after he snatched a missed free throw on the left side of the basket, was tossed in softly off the backboard in traffic.
"Whatever he did before the game," Hinds said with due reverence, "he needs to do before every game."
That's Henderson's reputation, though. He's a shooter who finds a rhythm when he finds faith in his shots, which explains his 3,000-plus points in high school. He'd only been slowed this season by a bruised back suffered in a tumble last month against Kansas State.
"Terry shot the ball extremely well in practice the last couple of days," Huggins said.
He reappeared right on time for the Mountaineers, who, if nothing else in this three-game winning streak against the bottom of the Big 12 Conference, have seen players and philosophies return to the forefront.
They're guarding much better and passing the ball effectively. Hinds and Deniz Kilicli have resumed top roles on offense and Gary Browne and Juwan Staten have, at the least, guided an offense that's shooting the ball remarkably better now than weeks earlier, when WVU was among the worst shooting teams in the country.
Henderson looked like the next piece to fall into place Saturday, and right on time.
He is attached in his freshman class to Eron Harris and it was Harris who took over Henderson's starting spot when Henderson missed two games following the back bruise. Harris flourished and became WVU's top shooter and most consistent scorer, so much so that Huggins asked his players to get Harris the ball more than they had been.
Harris has continued to score, but his shot has escaped him.
"I think the truth of the matter is before he was one of the guys running around out there," Huggins said. "Now every defense is set to make sure he doesn't get the looks that he did before. If you think about it, the guy they were chasing before was Terry and then Terry got hurt."
Henderson started 10 times before his injury and was averaging 8.4 points, including 23 against Michigan and 21 against Oklahoma, that thanks to six 3-pointers. Beginning with the Kansas State game, Harris has averaged 13.1 points and made 19 3-pointers in 48 attempts.
Yet there's been a slight slip, and he had just two points on 0-for-5 shooting against Kansas and followed that by missing 14 of 22 shots and 12 of 17 3-point shots the next two games. Indicative of how his identity has brought about struggles - an odd word to use since he's scored 18, 13 and 14 points the past three games - are his first half numbers from the three games.
He's made 9 of 17 shots and 6 of 11 3-point shots in the past three second halves. In the first halves, he's 4-for-15 from the floor and 1-for-9 from 3-point range.
"I think I have a tendency to start games unaggressive and Coach has talked to me about coming out and being aggressive in the first half," Harris said. "I don't have to be only a second-half player. I don't know what it is, but it's a habit I have."
It goes back to high school, when Harris was a point guard who was asked to get his teammates going, and he was hesitant early against TCU, which is what brought Henderson onto the floor for the beginning of his flurry. WVU started 1-for-7 and scored four points in the first eight minutes.
"I saw my team struggling scoring when I got in," Henderson said. "I felt good coming into the game with my shot and I'd been preparing for it all week. When the first one went in, I kind of felt like, 'Why can't the next one go in?' So I kept shooting it."
He stayed on the bench for the first 10 minutes of the second half, an oversight Huggins admitted to later, but Harris helped. He committed a smart foul when TCU could have dunked to get within three points. The free-throw shooter, Adrick McKinney, went 1-for-2. He finished 2-for-8 in the game.
Harris later sneaked out on a TCU miss for a dunk, made a critical 3 on the third shot of a possession to put WVU ahead by 11 points, assisted Aaric Murray for a 3 to restore a double-digit lead and then blocked a layup that led to two Henderson free throws, his only points of the second half, for a 61-49 lead.
"We're two hard playing freshmen," Henderson said. "It doesn't matter if in the first half I'm clicking and the second half he's clicking. As long as we help get the win, that's what matters."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.