MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Juwan Staten found his way to a soft chair in one of the Coliseum clubs shortly after West Virginia's game with Virginia Tech late Saturday afternoon, plopped himself down and quickly managed to sum up the previous two hours fairly succinctly.
"That game,'' the sophomore point guard said, "was crazy from start to finish.''
The fact that a West Virginia team that less than two weeks ago was mired in a 1-3 start had just handed the 7-0 Hokies their first loss of the season wasn't even close to the top of the list of crazy.
No, in truth that wasn't all that surprising at all. When Staten drove through a confused Tech defense for the game-winning layup with five seconds to play and then denied Hokies star guard Erick Green a chance to win it with his defense at the buzzer, it actually seemed pretty much true to form. After all, the former rivals were meeting for the first time in nine years and upsets have always been a part of the series.
So West Virginia's 68-67 win wasn't all that unexpected. Consider, though, all that led to it:
"Hey, if teams are able to back off of you when you're standing out there at the 3-point line, you're not doing your team any good,'' Murray said. "We just took what the defense gave us.''
Indeed, Virginia Tech (7-1) was giving West Virginia those unguarded 3-pointers by the big men rotating out in the motion offense by design. First-year Tech coach James Johnson admitted as much, saying he didn't care how many 3-pointers Noreen and Murray took as long as they weren't beating the Hokies inside with offensive rebounds.
"We wanted to take away the paint and make them beat us on the outside,'' Johnson said.
As it turned out, the Hokies did neither and it was the difference in the game. West Virginia not only made Tech pay for packing their defense inside by making those outside shots, the Mountaineers still dominated the boards. West Virginia had 23 offensive rebounds and held a 49-38 rebounding edge overall. WVU led in second-chance points just 18-10, but got its final nine points either in the paint or on free throws earned there.
Still, in the end it came down to a back-and-forth final few minutes in which neither team led by more than two points. Green, the nation's No. 2 scorer, and Robert Brown provided the fireworks for Tech, while Murray, Noreen and Staten countered for the Mountaineers.
WVU seemed in a good position to perhaps wrap it up with 20 seconds to play when, holding a 66-64 lead, the Mountaineers tied up Green on a drive to the basket and he had to give it up to the perimeter. But that's when Brown banked in a prayer of a 3-pointer to put Tech up 67-66 with 17 seconds to play.
"That kind of rattled all of us,'' Staten said of playing great defense and then seeing that shot bank in.
In the time remaining, though, it was all Staten. He drove to the basket with nine seconds left and ran into a brick wall and the ball went out of bounds off the Hokies. On the re-do, he did pretty much the same thing from the same angle, driving to the basket from the right of the key.
This time, though, Tech's switching defense got lost on Noreen moving away from the basket and the lane became wide open. Staten made an easy layup with five seconds to play.
"[Noreen] set the screen in there and I saw them switch and knew what was going to happen,'' Staten said.
Tech called time and then inbounded from just short of midcourt with 3.4 seconds to play. Green never gave up the ball and Staten never left him, backing down the floor and into the lane and then leaping up to defend his shot from near the foul line. It bounced off the rim at the buzzer.
"I just wanted to back up and bait him into shooting as soon as I could,'' Staten said. "When he took the shot I just tried to get into him.''
Green would end up with 23 points and Brown 21, but both worked for almost everything and Tech ended up nearly 20 points shy of its season scoring average.
Noreen, averaging just 12 minutes and 1.3 points coming in, had 14 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in 33 minutes. All are career highs. Murray had 15 points and seven boards, while freshman Eron Harris had 10 points and a couple of huge 3-pointers as WVU was rallying from a five-point deficit inside of nine minutes.
The Mountaineers now have a short turnaround for a Tuesday night game against Duquesne at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, followed by next Saturday's game with unbeaten Michigan in Brooklyn.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
West Virginia 68, Virginia Tech 67
VIRGINIA TECH (7-1)
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