WVU's Truck Bryant runs into Cincinnati's Cheikh Mbodj and Dian Dixon (3).
MORGANTOWN - With about 11 minutes left in West Virginia's 77-74 overtime victory against Cincinnati, Mountaineer guard Truck Bryant was dribbling the ball upcourt.A voice pierced the general noise of the sellout crowd of 14,070."TRUCK!," said the young fan. "DON'T SHOOT IT!"It was probably good advice. Bryant, the 6-foot-2 senior from Brooklyn, N.Y., didn't have an off day. He didn't have a bad day. It was as if he'd assumed the role of Mayhem from the Allstate ads.Bryant converted just 2-of-16 shots from the field. That's a pitiful 12.5 percent shooting effort.He converted no 3-point baskets in eight tries. You know the shooting percentage of that.Bryant fumbled and stumbled.And afterward, he emerged from the locker room and faced the media like a man."I struggled tonight," he said. "I struggled tonight. It wasn't one of my best games. But, at the end of the day, we had Jabarie [Hinds] and Gary [Browne] who stepped up. Gary was hot. He hit that 3 [to send the game to overtime]. That's what you need down the stretch in order to be a good team."To be a better-than-good team, of course, West Virginia needs Bryant to cease having games like Saturday.Give the man credit, though. When he has a bad game, he does so in a big way.At Connecticut, he was 2-for-13 shooting (15.4 percent) and 1-of-7 from behind the arc. At Seton Hall, Bryant was 3-of-16 (18.8 percent) and 2-of-10 shooting treys. At Baylor, he was 4-of-15 (26.7 percent) from the floor.Bryant remains West Virginia's second-leading scorer with a 17.5 average. But when he has a clunker like Saturday, one can't help but wonder what's going on behind that bright smile.He was asked about his first couple of misses, whether he started to doubt himself at that point."The first seven didn't go," Bryant said. "When the first couple don't go, that's cool. That's fine with me. But when the first seven don't go? I take it that it's going to be a long night for me."
"I had looks still. I just tried to hit 'em. I'm not going to give up. I've been making shots; I'm going to keep shooting 'em."On Saturday, Bryant didn't have his first points until there was 2:36 left in the first half. Canned a couple of free throws."I thought, 'Finally, I made one,' " Bryant said. "I couldn't make a shot, but I made a free throw."Bryant, you must understand, is a very likeable kid. He's the opposite of a college athlete prima donna. He's confident, yet humble. He can be self-deprecating. Fascinating, really. For WVU fans, through, he had to be maddening on Saturday.At the end of regulation, with a chance to win, WVU's Keaton Miles collected a rebound and got the ball to Bryant. A smidge over five seconds remained. Bryant lost possession.
"I just fumbled it," Bryant said. "It was in back of me and I was trying to grab it and just fumbled it. And all I was trying to do was take care of the ball at that moment."Earlier, Bryant allowed Cashmere Wright in the lane to convert a teardrop bucket."It was chaotic," said the Mountaineer senior. "It was almost my fault that ... I ALMOST BLEW THE GAME! Cashmere Wright drove to the basket. I heard a whistle. I guess it came from the student section though. I thought it was the ref. I just let him go. He scored the layup and that put them up by one [67-66]."
Then there was the play that sent WVU coach Bob Huggins over the edge. After Deniz Kilicli converted a hook shot in overtime, making the score 77-74, UC's Sean Kilpatrick missed a trey. The Mountaineers got on a fast break - with Bryant in control.As you might have guessed, he went out of control. Attempting to score, Bryant ran into Wright and turned the ball over. The Bearcats had another shot with 13.6 seconds left. Huggins went nuts."He was like, 'Just bring it out. You should just bring it out,' " Bryant said. "At the end of the day, though, we were up three and there was still 13 seconds left. A lot can happen in 13 seconds. I was trying to get a goal."It says something, though, that Bryant's team and Huggins still had confidence in the guard. Up 73-72 in overtime, Huggins went to Bryant. He missed from the right corner. Still ..."I couldn't throw the ball in the ocean, but they still trusted me to make the big shot when it counted," Bryant said.Some of the freshmen were even going to the senior to lift his spirits."We kept talking to him," said Hinds. "He was down a little bit, but we told him he'd come back. I remember telling him once when we reversed the ball on a zone. I told him to keep shooting if he's open.""I just told him, 'I'm here for you,' " said WVU's Kevin Jones, who seems to always be there for his team. "I told him, 'I've got your back. Just keep on playing.' "Once, though, Bryant's teammate did him a disservice. When it seemed the guard finally got it going, when a shot bounced around on the rim and was set to go in, Kilicli came soaring in and dunked the ball. Above cylinder. The shot was waved off."That was it right there," Bryant said with a head shake. "I was done after that. I was like, 'Oh, my God. I just need to play defense and stay out of their way on offense.' I finally got a shot to go in and Turk tried to dunk it."Bryant said the win - especially with his shooting troubles - was a big deal for the Mountaineers."It was huge," said the guard. "And it wasn't just jump shots. I wasn't making shots at all. And for me to play so bad and we still win, that shows the character of our team."Bryant, it must be noted, stayed afterward and answered all questions. So you wonder what it's like to be on such a big stage and have a storm cloud chasing and giving you noogies? The guard showed class and answered."It's just a struggle," Bryant said. "When you're struggling like I was tonight, you just want to see one ball go in. That's the only thing you want to see. That would make you feel a lot better. I hit a free throw. Was just praying."It was a struggle. I'm just happy my teammates stepped up in clutch situations and won the game."How much of a struggle? Well, WVU finished the victory with a 43.7 shooting percentage. If you subtract Bryant's effort, it's 52.7 percent."I don't know," Bryant said. "When it goes like that, nothing can go right. Nothing."Perhaps that's why Huggins won't dwell on Bryant's day."I'll tell him to take the rest of the day off and take [today] off," Huggins said. "Come shoot some free throws if he wants. Don't get a workout in."He and [Jones] play a lot of minutes and they really need to take a little bit of time off. We'll get them back in on Monday and get them shots. It's hard to make shots when you don't have legs. K.J. said he was tired yesterday."Maybe time off will help Bryant."I had a day like this," he said. "I don't want to have another."Enough mayhem for one season.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, email@example.com
or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.