MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Throughout last week, a national headline was "WVU mascot told to stop firing musket at wildlife."
The Mountaineer, it seems, shot a bear. On the court, though, West Virginia's players were having trouble shooting bunnies. Layups and short shots were a problem that extended into WVU's nail-biting 68-67 victory over Virginia Tech Saturday.
No sweat though. Because the Mountaineers had "Sweat," aka Kevin Noreen.
In a surprising outburst, Noreen, the 6-foot-10 sophomore, blocked shots early, scored throughout and lifted his team in the second half with a pair of 3-point goals that had the 11,631 in attendance roaring.
"The role I have is to play hard," Noreen said after coming off the bench and finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds, seven of which were collected on the offensive end. "If you play hard, things fall in place. Tonight it fell in place."
The lift moved WVU to 4-3 and dropped Virginia Tech, which had a No. 53 RPI ranking before the game, to 7-1.
Noreen's teammate, 6-10 Aaric Murray, also had a pair of treys.
"[The Hokies] were basically just disrespecting us by backing off," Murray said. "We work on our games all the time, so I told Sweat to let it fly. If they back off, we gotta let it fly. If not, they'd just keep sinking in on the rest of our team and we wouldn't be helping."
So help the big men did.
"It helps if you get in a rhythm at the beginning of the game," Noreen said. "I was able to get a couple layups and a 15-footer. It carried over."
Murray actually started the party for the big men with a trey from the left corner, but Noreen soon joined in. He took a pass from Keaton Miles for a layup. On the other end, he grabbed a rebound and stepped into a 17-footer.
After WVU squandered its halftime lead, Noreen took a charge. At 11:23, he nailed his first 3-point attempt from the left side. Shortly thereafter, he hit from the top of the key to pull the Mountaineers within 48-47.
"I think it does more for my team than myself," Noreen said of his outburst. "If you noticed, I made a couple of those shots and the bench went crazy. That's what we want. It gets everybody involved and into the game. It gets the bench alive and the guys on the floor are a lot more enthusiastic."
It was satisfying to watch for WVU coach Bob Huggins.
"Over the years, I've had some great, great guys," said the coach. "I've had some hard-working guys. I don't know, though, if any of them put more time in than Kevin Noreen.
"Other guys were physically more talented, but I don't know if I've had anybody put in more time. He's in the office after classes trying to figure it all out.
"And he listens. If we had some other guys that would listen, and were as committed as he is, they'd be very, very good players."
"I just hope this is something so that Kev will feel more comfortable stepping into shots. He's going to get open shots. He's had open shots in every game we've played."
The payoff was action during crunch time. Noreen was on the floor with Murray, point guard Juwan Staten, freshman Eron Harris and Miles.