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Staten seized control after 'the look' from Huggins

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Juwan Staten knew he'd done something wrong. He just wasn't sure what it had been.

He knew it because of The Look.

"I knew when I looked over at Coach Huggs and he was giving me that look,'' Staten said.

Actually, Staten knew a few seconds earlier, when the whistle blew and he was called for a technical foul. It came with about four minutes to play in West Virginia's game at Texas Tech Monday night and could have been a lot worse than it was. Despite the momentum swing it caused in Tech's favor, the Mountaineers still managed to survive and win 89-86 in overtime.

Perhaps the biggest reason they survived was Staten himself. Sure, unknowingly or not it was his technical that sparked a run that nearly got WVU beaten, but it was also his play down the stretch and in overtime that contributed heavily to the ultimate recovery.

Of course, that's nothing new. Staten has become West Virginia's unquestioned go-to guy in close games, and lately he's delivered almost every time.

"He's pretty much been doing it all year,'' Bob Huggins said afterward. "He's playing with a lot of confidence and his understanding of what I want him to do is very, very good. He's playing at a high level right now.''

It couldn't come at a better time for the Mountaineers (10-5, 2-0 Big 12), who successfully swept TCU and Texas Tech on a two-game road trip to get off to the fast start they needed in league play. Playing in tight games like the one Monday night and two days earlier at TCU isn't unusual for WVU this season, but winning them is.

Or at least it was until lately. West Virginia has lost five games this season and all were by single digits, generally ones that could have gone either way in the final two or three minutes. But the Mountaineers have played five games in a little over three weeks now and four of them have been close down the stretch. In those the Mountaineers are 3-1, having beaten Marshall and the two Big 12 opponents and lost only to Purdue.

"I just feel like our whole team is maturing a lot,'' Staten said. "We had a lot of tough games early and, unfortunately, we didn't win those games. But we knew those games were going to mean something and I feel like they were preparing us for right now.''

Well, the Mountaineers need all the preparation they can get because things only get more difficult from here on out. Saturday brings a visit from preseason Big 12 co-favorite Oklahoma State and All-America guard Marcus Smart. That's followed by a Monday home game with 11-3 Texas and then 14 more games in what is at least for now the No. 1 RPI conference in the country.

"We know it only gets harder from here,'' said Terry Henderson, whose 3-pointer late in regulation sent the Texas Tech game to overtime. "But it's good to get these two.''

Perhaps the only real surprise Monday was that the Mountaineers had to overcome a Staten mistake to win. That technical foul came at the end of a characteristically clutch play, Staten driving through heavy traffic and making a shot to put WVU up by four with about four minutes to play.

But just after the ball went through, the whistle blew and referee John Higgins called Staten for the technical.

"I actually didn't say anything,'' Staten said. "I just looked at him. That's why I was surprised when they called the [technical], because I didn't say anything.

"I actually thought it was a late whistle for a foul or something. I just kind of looked around to see who it was that jumped on me like that. I don't know, but it happened and we got through it.''

Again, the Mountaineers got through it in large part because of Staten. Yes, nearly everyone else contributed clutch plays, from freshmen Brandon Watkins and Devin Williams under the basket, to fellow freshman Nathan Adrian with a key steal and layup to start overtime, to Henderson's big shot and to Eron Harris with an assist and a layup on back-to-back overtime possessions when his 3-point shot wasn't working.

But Staten, as always, was the one who was always involved. He was either driving to the basket or pulling up on his way to 25 points (on 10-of-12 shooting), including a huge play when he barely got a shot off at the end of the shot clock and only 35 seconds remained in overtime. He drew a foul on the play and made both shots to give WVU a four-point lead that would be just enough.

A great part of that is just naturally what Staten does. But a part of it, he admits, went back to that look he got from Huggins after the technical.

"I knew I had to make plays,'' Staten said.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.

 


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