By Cam Huffman
After leading most of the afternoon, West Virginia couldn’t let its upset bid over an undefeated rival come up short on a banked 3-pointer.
So after Virginia Tech’s Robert Brown got help from the glass to give the Hokies (7-1) a 67-66 lead with 18 seconds to play Saturday at the WVU Coliseum, Mountaineer sophomore guard Juwan Staten decided he was going to score — no matter what.
The Dayton transfer took the ball out of the timeout and drove into a lane that cleared faster than a playground after recess. Staten rose to the rim and layed the ball off the glass for his sixth point, and only field goal, of the game to put the Mountaineers (4-3) in front 68-67 with five ticks on the clock.
He then got a hand in the face of Virginia Tech’s Erick Green on a jumper as time expired. The final prayer clanged off the rim, and a sellout crowd of 11,631 celebrated WVU’s biggest win of the season, while first-year Hokies coach James Johnson saw his honeymoon end with his first loss.
“I saw my man turn his head and look for the screen, and that put me in a 2-on-1 with Eron in the corner and Green guarding him,” said Staten of the game-winning sequence. “(Green) had to make a decision, and the paint came open. I just took it in and scored.”
The WVU point guard, though, would have never had a chance to be the hero if not for the efforts of sophomore forward Kevin Noreen. The 6-foot-10 Minnesota native came off the bench to play the game of his career, scoring 14 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking two shots. Against a sagging Virginia Tech defense, more than willing to give the Mountaineer big-man the outside look, Noreen nailed down 2 of 3 attempts from 3-point land. That forced Tech to extend its defense, opening up the paint for the Mountaineers’ slashing guards late in the game.
“It was just one of those days,” said Noreen, who had scored just eight points all year coming into Saturday’s game. “I don’t want to be a liability out there. If they’re not going to guard me out there, I have to knock it down. If they give it to me, I’m going to take it.”
WVU held the Atlantic Coast Conference’s top scoring offense to just 24 points in the opening half, but the Hokies made a game of it, erasing a 12-point first-half Mountaineer lead to have a chance down the stretch.
After shooting just 33.3 percent from the floor in the first 20 minutes, Tech made nearly 50 percent of its attempts in the second half as the ACC’s leading scorer, Green, began to heat up. The senior guard finished with 23 points and 10 assists, and he helped the Hokies to a lead as large as five points, 46-41, midway through the second half.
“We have got to be more consistent,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “I thought, defensively, we did a pretty good job in the first half, and we were just awful at the beginning of the second half.”
The difference in the final outcome for WVU, aside from the 10 3-pointers it knocked home — freshman guard Eron Harris was also an unlikely contributer with a pair of 3-balls and 10 points — was the rebounding differential. WVU won the battle of the boards 49-38, and its 23 offensive rebounds led to 10 second-chance points.
“That was the game plan,” said Johnson of leaving WVU’s big men open on the perimeter. “We weren’t going to let them drive to the basket. They got 23 offensive rebounds anyway, so we weren’t going to let them post up on us. Those guys shot the ball with confidence and made shots they haven’t been making all year.”
The Hokies, coming off wins against Iowa and No. 15 Oklahoma State in back-to-back games, had won the last two in the series with WVU, but the teams hadn’t played since 2004.
The Mountaineers took a 47-29 advantage in the all-time series between the two former Southern Conference and Big East rivals. The Mountaineers and Hokies are scheduled to meet again next year in Blacksburg.
Up next for WVU, which has now won three straight, is a trip to face Duquesne on Tuesday, before traveling to New York City to meet up with No. 3 Michigan, led by former Mountaineer coach John Beilein, Saturday.
The Hokies will return to action Monday night at home against Mississippi Valley State.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
WEST VIRGINIA 68, VIRGINIA TECH 67
VIRGINIA TECH (7-1)
Raines 4-8 0-2 8, Eddie 2-5 0-0 5, Barksdale 3-4 0-0 6, Brown 9-19 1-1 21, Green 8-19 5-5 23, Van Zegeren 1-3 0-0 2, Rankin 0-5 0-0 0, Wood 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 27-65 8-10 67.
WEST VIRGINIA (4-3)
Kilicli 1-4 3-6 5, Murray 6-10 1-2 15, Staten 1-6 4-6 6, Hinds 1-9 0-0 3, Brown 1-2 0-0 3, Harris 3-5 2-2 10, Browne 1-10 0-1 3, Henderson 2-6 0-0 4, Noreen 6-10 0-1 14, Miles 2-6 0-0 5. Totals 24-68 10-18 68.
Halftime—West Virginia 30-24. 3-Point Goals—Virginia Tech 5-18 (Green 2-5, Brown 2-7, Eddie 1-3, Wood 0-1, Rankin 0-2), West Virginia 10-24 (Murray 2-3, Noreen 2-3, Harris 2-3, Brown 1-2, Hinds 1-3, Browne 1-3, Miles 1-4, Henderson 0-3). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Virginia Tech 38 (Barksdale, Raines 8), West Virginia 49 (Noreen 12). Assists—Virginia Tech 15 (Green 10), West Virginia 15 (Miles 5). Total Fouls—Virginia Tech 17, West Virginia 12. A—11,631.