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WVU still can't find a way to finish

STILLWATER, Okla. - Eron Harris had one of those games Saturday afternoon that could have gone down as legendary.

Well, at least it might have if he'd played more than a half.

As it was, even in just 21 minutes on the floor he launched seven 3-pointers and six of them were as perfect as perfect gets. They were the kind that if you're distracted a bit you might have thought they were air balls. They weren't. The net just didn't move because they were so perfectly centered.

It was the kind of performance that West Virginia has to have in order to win games this season, what with the makeup of the team essentially being Harris and a few others shooting 3-pointers and Juwan Staten handling everything else.

Yet in the end, there was Harris explaining how good he felt during the game and how bad he felt afterward. That's what happens when even a virtuoso performance results in an 81-75 loss to No. 11 Oklahoma State.

Oh, sure, there were other factors at play, not the least of which was the foul trouble that kept Harris on the bench for nearly half the game. This was simply an awful game to watch. In the end, six players fouled out, including Harris and three of his teammates. Two of Oklahoma State's three best players, Marcus Smart and Le'Bryan Nash, would also foul out.

But even with all those fouls, this was a game that still set up perfectly for West Virginia. When Harris was on the floor he was deadly. The fouls actually slowed the tempo of the game to a crawl, which is basically what the Mountaineers wanted to do. No, they didn't want all those fouls, but they did want a deliberate pace because Oklahoma State, if unimpeded, will just run right by almost any team it plays.

Yet still the Mountaineers lost. In a way it seems a shame. In other ways it seems inevitable. This is a team that has been so close, so often all season long. But it just can't find a way to win.

"That's definitely something that's been our Achilles heel this year, finishing games,'' said Staten, who has finished a few himself in cases when the Mountaineers were leading, but isn't really the kind of scorer who can lead a team back from a deficit. "But this time it was a little different, I think. We got in all that foul trouble and we had to call on players who aren't usually put in those situations.''

Yeah, like Tyrone Hughes. If the name doesn't ring a bell it's because he's a walk-on who had played all of 13 minutes. Yet he was on the floor for most of the last four minutes of the first half and again at game's end because of all that foul trouble.

That the Mountaineers had to rely on walk-ons and play large stretches of the game without a center on the floor, though, isn't really the issue. Those were merely the circumstances in this instance.

No, the bigger issue is just finding a way to win, which this team just hasn't been able to do. Some will argue that there is a simple reason for that and it's that it's just not a very good team, and to a point they are right. It is a team that lacks some key ingredients, namely a stronger inside presence and, to a degree, athleticism.

(Just as an aside, however, don't attempt to compare West Virginia and Oklahoma State athletically. The number of teams in the country with more athleticism than OSU - especially in the form of Markel Brown, Nash and Smart - can probably be counted on one hand. So the fact that WVU doesn't match up there isn't unusual).

But even teams that are lacking in some areas are able to find ways to win. This one just hasn't. It's a better team than the one that finished 13-19 last season. There's no question about that. Don't even try to argue the point.

But it still needs to come together and click. For the most part this season, it hasn't.

The only positive is that, at least to a point, they seem to know what to do, they just haven't been able to do it. Take Harris, for instance, who noted that the difference between winning and losing Saturday might simply have been doing some of those little things. Like what?

"The little small things were finishing layups, missing free throws,'' Harris said. "Everything else was just mistakes that were probably going to happen. Sometimes we let guys get shots that we know shouldn't get shots. You can't always control that. The guy is going to shoot it sometimes. Hitting layups and free throws are something we have to get better at."

Master a few of those and get a few full games from Harris like he had Saturday or Terry Henderson last Wednesday and West Virginia still might have a chance to win some games. The schedule is just brutal - there is a chance that every team WVU plays from here out except TCU will have been in the Top 25 at some point - and that doesn't bode well, but if you're going to play at this level those are the teams you have to deal with.

This team has figured out how to deal with most of those teams. The Mountaineers just haven't figured out how to finish the deal.

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


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