The Associated Press
WVU forwards Deniz Kilicli (13) and Kevin Noreen celebrate after a 68-67 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- It was a Juwan Staten layup with five seconds remaining that lifted the West Virginia men's basketball team to a 68-67 victory against Virginia Tech.But Saturday afternoon, the hero was the man known as "Big Sweat" in the WVU locker room.While it wasn't a flashy performance, Mountaineers redshirt sophomore forward Kevin Noreen took advantage of his career-high 33 minutes against the Hokies, scoring 14 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking two shots.The points and rebounds also represented career-bests for Noreen.
"If there are kids out there that want to be a basketball player, I think he is a great role model," Coach Bob Huggins said. "He doesn't play above the rim, he can't rebound above the rim. He has to shoot 1,000 shots a day."Over the years I've had some great guys. I mean, absolutely wonderful and hardworking guys. I don't know that I have had anyone put more time in than what Kevin Noreen puts in."But even though the performance was nice, it would have all gone to waste had Noreen not been able to help lead the Mountaineers to a victory - a win which gave them a winning record for the first time this season."It really wouldn't have meant that much if we didn't get the win," he said. "I'm just glad we got the win, and to be able to contribute like that is a good feeling."
Noreen made his presence felt early on in the contest. After entering the game with a little more than 16 minutes to play in the first half, Noreen scored six points to go with eight rebounds before intermission.After taking just one shot from 3-point range in his career heading into Saturday's game, Noreen made two of his three attempts in the second half - a facet of his game that he knew he had, but just never got the chance to showcase."Not many people know this, but I'm third career all-time in 3-point makes in Minnesota (high school basketball)," Noreen said. "It's in my pedigree, I just finally brought it out."Things haven't been easy for Noreen in his time in Morgantown.
The 6-foot-10 Minneapolis, Minn., native was seeing minutes early on in his freshman season before he ruptured a bursa sac in his right knee, causing him to miss the rest of the year. He received a medical hardship, which granted him an extra year of eligibility.And in his second go-around as a freshman, things were looking better. Noreen was averaging 12 minutes per game, and contributing meaningful minutes for a team that was playing well.But then he suffered a broken ankle against Pitt, ending his season once again.
Throughout it all, however, Noreen kept a positive outlook. He wasn't worried about whether or not he'd get to step back out on the floor again."I never though that actually," he said."That might have been kind of stupid of me, because I didn't realize how big of a deal surgery is and the rehab timetable that it takes to get back from those types of injuries. I was just able to work hard and I had great support here with the coaches and the strength staff."Now healthy again, Noreen is usually one of the first players Huggins goes to off the bench when his team needs a boost. He's leading the way for one of the most productive benches in the nation and a group that was vital against the Hokies on Saturday.Coming into the Virginia Tech game, WVU was getting 29 points per game from its bench. But the non-starters scored 36 points in Saturday's victory, a win which saw big plays down the stretch from reserves like Noreen, sophomores Gary Browne and Keaton Miles, and freshman Eron Harris."That's been the coaching staff's mindset all season. They knew we had 12 or 13 guys that can come in and play whenever and give us contributions," Noreen said. "The philosophy is just play hard and when someone has to come in to take your place, they can do just as well."
When West Virginia started the season 2-3, Noreen sensed that the team needed some kind of boost to start to turn things around before it was too late. Following big wins against Marshall and Virginia Tech last week, he thinks the Mountaineers might have found what they need to get back on track.And he's just glad he could do what he could to help that happen."Marshall, that sort of calmed the fire down because we weren't playing very well ... And then we knew we had to get this one," Noreen said. "This is going to set the tone for pretty much the rest of the season. We knew if we lost this one we were going to be in trouble."I'm just so happy I was able to help out the team. I pretty much go into every practice saying I don't want to let the other guys down. That's really my mindset when I play. Hopefully I can continue this."