MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Throughout last week, a national headline was "WVU mascot told to stop firing musket at wildlife."The Mountaineer, it seems, shot a bear. On the court, though, West Virginia's players were having trouble shooting bunnies. Layups and short shots were a problem that extended into WVU's nail-biting 68-67 victory over Virginia Tech Saturday.No sweat though. Because the Mountaineers had "Sweat," aka Kevin Noreen.In a surprising outburst, Noreen, the 6-foot-10 sophomore, blocked shots early, scored throughout and lifted his team in the second half with a pair of 3-point goals that had the 11,631 in attendance roaring.
"The role I have is to play hard," Noreen said after coming off the bench and finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds, seven of which were collected on the offensive end. "If you play hard, things fall in place. Tonight it fell in place."The lift moved WVU to 4-3 and dropped Virginia Tech, which had a No. 53 RPI ranking before the game, to 7-1.Noreen's teammate, 6-10 Aaric Murray, also had a pair of treys."[The Hokies] were basically just disrespecting us by backing off," Murray said. "We work on our games all the time, so I told Sweat to let it fly. If they back off, we gotta let it fly. If not, they'd just keep sinking in on the rest of our team and we wouldn't be helping."So help the big men did."It helps if you get in a rhythm at the beginning of the game," Noreen said. "I was able to get a couple layups and a 15-footer. It carried over."Murray actually started the party for the big men with a trey from the left corner, but Noreen soon joined in. He took a pass from Keaton Miles for a layup. On the other end, he grabbed a rebound and stepped into a 17-footer.After WVU squandered its halftime lead, Noreen took a charge. At 11:23, he nailed his first 3-point attempt from the left side. Shortly thereafter, he hit from the top of the key to pull the Mountaineers within 48-47."I think it does more for my team than myself," Noreen said of his outburst. "If you noticed, I made a couple of those shots and the bench went crazy. That's what we want. It gets everybody involved and into the game. It gets the bench alive and the guys on the floor are a lot more enthusiastic."
It was satisfying to watch for WVU coach Bob Huggins."Over the years, I've had some great, great guys," said the coach. "I've had some hard-working guys. I don't know, though, if any of them put more time in than Kevin Noreen.
"Other guys were physically more talented, but I don't know if I've had anybody put in more time. He's in the office after classes trying to figure it all out."And he listens. If we had some other guys that would listen, and were as committed as he is, they'd be very, very good players."Huggins continued."I just hope this is something so that Kev will feel more comfortable stepping into shots. He's going to get open shots. He's had open shots in every game we've played."
The payoff was action during crunch time. Noreen was on the floor with Murray, point guard Juwan Staten, freshman Eron Harris and Miles.Perhaps Noreen is growing as he did in Minneapolis.
"I have the third-most makes of 3s in Minnesota history," Noreen said. "That's how I played in high school. In my early days, all I did was shoot 3s in high school. To bring it back today really felt good."He said comparing his game to another Kevin - Pittsnogle - is "kind of a stretch." But don't underestimate Noreen's shooting ability."I played varsity in seventh grade," said the sophomore. "But I was only 5-9, 5-10. I wasn't posting up then. I had to take 3s. As I grew, it just stayed with me. As a senior, I was 6-10, but not shooting quite as many 3s.""Hey, I'm not surprised," Murray said. "Sweat is the hardest worker I know. Sweat is the hardest worker on the team. I know Sweat can shoot it. He goes hard."Huggins was pleased."[Noreen] shot the ball," said the coach. "He never shot it before. He wants to win, and he just felt there were other guys that may be able to get shots other than him. And he's kept rebounds alive, but I don't know if he's ever rebounded this well."As for shooting beyond the 3-point arc, Noreen said that hasn't been a priority for him and Murray."We do a little bit of that," said the sophomore. "But we're mostly in the post and the short corner trying to get mid-range jumpers in. But on our own time we try to shoot some 3s too."On Saturday, that extra practice paid off."We have more of a system where you pass the ball, screen and get your teammates open," Murray said. "You can't just come down jacking 3s. But once they're backing off, let it fly."The hard work, though, was almost for naught. Tech's Robert Brown banked in a 3-point attempt to give the visitors a 67-66 lead with 18 seconds left."That really hurt," Noreen said. "I saw we had a good boxout. We had a ring inside. They weren't going to get that rebound. To see it bank in was demoralizing, but at the same time we knew we had time on the clock to get another shot."Staten provided the winning bucket."We were running a 1-4," Noreen said. "It was an isolation play to Juwan. However, Turk [Deniz Kilicli] was going to duck in. We were going to look for Turk first and if that wasn't there, [Staten] was going to try to beat his man."They had to sweat it out. But Sweat helped them out."The nickname really came my freshman year," Noreen explained. "We had [Kevin Jones], so there couldn't be another Kevin. I was Little Kev. Then the strength coach gave me the name Big Sweat. It stuck. I don't know if I like it, but it is what it is. At least I'm known for something."And after Saturday's game, something else.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.