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Eulogy delayed for WVU season

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- A long time ago (March 24, 2005), in a place far from here (Albuquerque, N.M.), West Virginia's basketball team won a game in the 60s over Texas Tech. Then-Red Raiders coach Bob Knight said the Mountaineers, then coached by John Beilein, were the most disciplined he'd seen that season. It was in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

On Saturday, WVU again defeated Texas Tech in a game kept in the 60s. But it was a long way from Albuquerque.

In 2005, both teams had 20-plus victories. Afterward, the Mountaineers fell in a spectacular subsequent overtime game to Louisville with a Final Four berth on the line.

On Saturday, little but pride was on the line. And WVU, now 13-12, was but a last-second 3-point shot from a freshman point guard away from losing that against the now-9-14 Red Raiders.

West Virginia was thisclose to having its season obituary written. And that just might be arriving soon, with a road trip to Kansas State followed by a Saturday visit from Oklahoma State.

Consider that at the end of Saturday's game, Tech was playing without its three best players. Throughout, it was playing with a 5-foot-9 guy with a headband who should have been named Sparky. Their leading scorer was a guy named Dusty, who looked like his mama just mussed his hair. And WVU's Deniz Kilicli was many times working inside against a guy from the capital of a country of which I've never heard - Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

And the Mountaineers almost lost. At home.

WVU had 18 turnovers and hit but 24 of 41 free throws.

"It was worse today than at Baylor," said WVU coach Bob Huggins.

You don't have to have a long memory to know the Mountaineers had 18 turnovers in that 20-point loss on Wednesday.

"I think we give the game away sometimes with turnovers," said guard Gary Browne. "And we don't rebound the ball."

WVU did do that Saturday, outrebounding the Red Raiders 39-29.

"They got to the foul line and were physical," said Tech coach Chris Walker. "I think that was the difference in the game."

He tweaked that WVU, which was called for 18 fouls to Tech's 30, "must have done an amazing job" of being physical and not fouling.

Regardless, the Red Raiders were a smart decision away from winning. "We would have suggested [Josh Gray] drive it," Walker said.

WVU simply does not have it this season, unless you count a creative flair for throwing the ball away. A pass out of bounds here. A shot clock violation - a chuck off the side of the backboard - there.

Fortunately for the team, on Saturday, Kilicli showed up. He had 25 points and eight rebounds and, for once, received a little help from the officials. On one drive he simply knocked over Kader Tapsoba (of the aforementioned Ouagadougou) to convert a layup.

As the season moves along, though, the one discovered gem for Huggins seems to be Eron Harris, who finished with 15 points. When the Mountaineers play effectively, he always seems to be in the mix.

He might have given the hosts the necessary cushion Saturday with a steal and drive late. The freshman received an intentional foul call and converted the free throws.

"He's playing the best of his life," Browne said of his teammate. "He's making shots; he's pump faking; he's been working. He's the guy making shots right now."

"The battle is to play every play," Huggins said. "In the first half, he was very loose. But he came back in the second half and responded. The good thing about Eron is he doesn't pout. He comes to play."

Harris is now WVU's leading scorer, averaging 9.2 points. He is "loose" at times, committing 34 turnovers, but has 19 steals and is converting 45 percent of his shots from the floor and 75.4 percent from the free-throw stripe. From behind the 3-point arc, he's at 39.3 percent.

Harris was asked Saturday if he expected the season success.

"No, I definitely didn't," he said. "In my head I thought I could, but I wasn't sure. I just kept working."

He may not have been sure, but he now seems to be the most sure. He has that air of confidence.

"I think I got that from my dad," Harris said. "Growing up I wasn't always confident. I was always behind somebody.

"But you know how dads always believe in their kids. He always saw my potential. He believed in me and kept my head right."

Get this: At Lawrence North High in Indianapolis, Harris didn't start until his junior year. He started one game as a sophomore. At WVU, he's started the last 10 as a freshman.

He's one of a few sure-fire prospects for Huggins to work with next season.

As they try to find their way back to Albuquerque.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.

 


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