MORGANTOWN - If Eron Harris can be faulted for anything, it might be bad timing.
No one is actually criticizing that, of course. Most associated with West Virginia's basketball team are thrilled that the freshman guard is playing as well as he has of late. After all, it's obvious that this team needs all the help it can get, and Harris has added another piece to the puzzle.
Still, consider the what-could-have-beens for Harris the past two games.
Last Wednesday night at Texas, he calmly sank a pressure-packed 3-point shot with 16.4 seconds to play that for a time seemed to give West Virginia a dramatic 50-47 win over the Longhorns. All that was left was to carry him off the court on someone's shoulders.
Ah, but 16.4 seconds remained and, although the Mountaineers actually played great defense after that, Jonathan Holmes still made a really difficult 3 to send the game into overtime.
Then on Saturday, with the clock winding down and West Virginia trailing No. 18 Kansas State, Harris might have come up even bigger. With no one able to get off a decent shot and the shot clock running down, Harris put up an impossible falling-back shot from the baseline. This time 25.8 seconds remained and when it went in, WVU had a 64-63 lead.
Again, though, too much time remained. Kansas State's Shane Southwell managed to draw a foul and make two shots to give the Wildcats the lead, and West Virginia wasn't able to counter this time, bungling nearly everything in the final 20 seconds and losing, 65-64.
The thing is, though, based on those last two games West Virginia may have found just the kind of clutch player it's been looking for in close games. No, he didn't get a chance in those final seconds against Kansas State, but it would be hard not to start designing plays for the 6-foot-2, 190-pound freshman from Indianapolis.
Then again, after Saturday's disappointing loss Harris wasn't interested at all in recounting his just-a-bit-too-early heroics in those last two games. He was more to the point about what lost the game on Saturday, and it had nothing to do with the final seconds.
"It all comes down to possessions early, in the first half, in the second half,'' Harris said. "Those were possessions we gave up because we didn't work hard enough. If we play those possessions and the rest of the game like we should, it never would have come down to the last possession."
Indeed, West Virginia did give away a lot of points throughout the game, on both ends of the floor. The Mountaineers finally shot the ball well (51.1 percent, including 64.7 percent in the first half), but also made barely half their free throws (12-of-22). On the other end, WVU allowed Kansas State to shoot 51 percent, including 70 percent for most of the first half. Some of that was just great shooting, but a lot of shots were just conceded.
"When your guy is dunking at one end and you haven't even reached the foul line on the other end,'' coach Bob Huggins said, "you probably aren't competing.''
That's not the case with Harris, though. The freshman has gotten far more playing time since having a solid game against Michigan in Brooklyn and has become a significant part of the rotation. In the first eight games of the season, Harris averaged just under 10 minutes on the floor in the games he played. In the last seven games, he's averaging over 18 minutes.
He's not shot the ball well consistently, but neither has anyone else and Harris appears to be emerging from that prolonged, team-wide slump as well as anyone. Of course, the off-balance prayer he threw up to give WVU the lead late in the Kansas State game can't be used as a gauge of how well he's shooting.
"I got lucky on that one,'' he admitted.
BRIEFLY: Point guard Juwan Staten has not played in three straight halves now, having been benched for the second half at Texas and the entire Kansas State game.
"He has to get on the same page as me or he's not going to play,'' Huggins said of the sophomore transfer from Dayton, who played so much in the first 13-plus games that he still leads the team in minutes played and likely will for another week or more even if he doesn't play.
The Mountaineers (8-7, 1-2 Big 12) play twice on the road this week - Wednesday at Iowa State (11-4, 1-1) and the final non-conference game of the year Saturday at Purdue (8-8).
Three of Iowa State's four losses are to ranked teams - Cincinnati, UNLV and Kansas - and the other to rival Iowa. All of the losses were away from home and the Cyclones drubbed Texas at home Saturday, 82-62.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1.