WVU avoids letdown vs. Duquesne
MORGANTOWN - West Virginia pulled the same trick against Duquesne Sunday afternoon that it did against Virginia Tech last week, losing most of a double-digit first-half lead with sloppy play.
"I've seen that picture before,'' Bob Huggins would say afterward. "And I didn't like it.''
He did, however, like how his Mountaineers responded when it happened again. Or at least how they eventually responded.
Yes, the Mountaineers did struggle with the Dukes at times, but behind record scoring performances by Eron Harris and Juwan Staten, they pulled away in the final minutes for a 96-83 win in front of a crowd of 6,038 at the Coliseum.
Harris and Staten combined for 61 of WVU's 96 points. Harris had six 3-pointers among his 33 points and Staten made 12 of 19 free throws while scoring 28. Both set career highs in scoring.
And it was Harris and fellow sophomore sharpshooting partner, Terry Henderson, who finally pulled the trigger when the Mountaineers had let the Dukes hang around long enough. Their back-to-back 3-pointers in an 18-second span turned a 75-71 nail-biter into the runaway it would eventually be.
That was part of a 10-for-18 3-point performance for West Virginia, which through three games is shooting 46 percent from outside the arc after failing miserably to convert those shots during last year's 13-19 season.
"Terry and Eron are very capable of that,'' Huggins said. "And when it happens and you look up at the scoreboard and [the lead is] 10 points instead of four, you feel a little bit better.''
There were all sorts of reasons for West Virginia to feel better about itself after Sunday's win as opposed to the loss at Virginia Tech five days earlier.
Yes, there were shortcomings, not the least of which was allowing 20 offensive rebounds and being beaten on the boards 39-30. There's the problem of free-throw shooting, which after a 15-for-18 performance in the opener has sunk to 63 percent since. Against Duquesne, WVU made just 20 of 34 from the line, despite the fact that guards Staten and Harris shot the majority.
"I have no idea what that's about,'' said Harris, who missed four of his seven foul shots.
But West Virginia also did a whole bunch right against Duquesne, primarily Harris, Staten and freshman Devin Williams, who had a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. Harris was eight points better than his previous career high of 25 against Baylor last year, and Staten was six above the 22 he scored in this year's opener against Mount St. Mary's.
Harris' explosion isn't all that striking. He's a scorer and scorers get hot. Staten, still without a 3-pointer since he was playing for Dayton in 2010-11, isn't the same kind of traditional scorer, but is now averaging 20 points through three games.
"If I'm just facilitating, then it doesn't work. The other team guards the wings and we can't score,'' said Staten, who still managed to facilitate nine assists against just one turnover. "But if I'm more than a facilitator, if they have to guard me, then we're a lot better.''
With the win, West Virginia improved to 2-1 with preliminary games in the Cancun Challenge coming up this week at the Coliseum - Thursday night against Georgia Southern and Saturday afternoon against Presbyterian. The Mountaineers go to Cancun next week for the meat of that event.
Duquesne lost its second straight and dropped to 1-2. It came a year after the Dukes upset West Virginia in Pittsburgh to break an eight-game losing streak in a series WVU now leads 51-37.
Duquesne got 19 points from senior UAB transfer Ovie Soko and 18 from Drake transfer Micah Mason. But together they had only 10 in the second half and Duquesne couldn't seem to guard Staten or Harris.
"I know Eron Harris had a bunch of points, but we could not keep [Staten] in front of us,'' said second-year Duquesne coach Jim Ferry. "I thought he just dominated the basketball game.''
After leading by as many as 14 points in the first half and then seeing it cut to six at the break, West Virginia continued to struggle in the second half. Duquesne tied the score at 59 on a Mason 3-pointer about five minutes in, but Harris immediately answered with one of his own to give the lead back to WVU.
The teams remained only a possession or two apart until lightning struck for the Mountaineers just under the six-minute mark.
That's when Harris and Henderson dropped in their 3-pointers from the same spot in the left corner 18 second apart and WVU's lead was 81-71. Then after a sloppy, scoreless next 21/2 minutes, Harris hit another 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring with 3:19 to play. That made it 84-71 and ended any suspense.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1