West Virginia's Brandon Watkins (center) tries to control the ball between a pair of Purdue defenders.
MORGANTOWN - West Virginia had every opportunity in the world Sunday afternoon not only to beat Purdue, but do so handily.That the Mountaineers didn't can be traced to a lot of different things. They gave up far too many layups to a team that predicates its offense on doing just that. They played decent initial defense, but then gave up 14 offensive rebounds and 13 second-chance points. They even had decent crowd support, drawing the first five-figure crowd of the season (10,019) at the Coliseum.But more than anything, West Virginia's 73-70 loss to the Boilermakers can be traced to one ridiculously simple element. The Mountaineers didn't make shots. Easy ones."We're not going to make them all, but we've got to make some of them,'' Bob Huggins said afterward. "If we're going to let them take that many 3s, we've got to make some of them.''
Indeed, in losing what was their final chance to get a non-conference win over any team that might help their postseason resume, the Mountaineers just couldn't make shots. They didn't make them during the routine course of the game or at the end when it mattered most.After missing 15 of 18 3-pointers and even more layups than one might ever imagine, West Virginia now goes into a holiday break still struggling for any kind of momentum. The team was excused to go home following the game and will reassemble the day after Christmas to prepare for next Sunday's game against William & Mary in Charleston and then the beginning of Big 12 play the following weekend.They go into that break knowing the opportunity they missed."We just have to continue to work,'' said freshman forward Devin Williams. "It's all we can do.''In truth, West Virginia's scoring woes Sunday weren't team-wide. Williams and guards Juwan Staten and Eron Harris, in fact, were nearly as productive as one could have expected. Harris suffered from the same 3-point shooting malady as everyone else (he was just 2 for 7 from long range), but he still managed a game-high 24 points. Staten had 14 points and four assists, and Williams not only had his fourth double-double with 20 points and 12 rebounds, he made his free throws (8 of 9).Together, those three were 20 for 40 from the floor and scored 58 points.Everyone else, though? Ugly. Only two others (Terry Henderson with eight and Nathan Adrian with four) even scored, and seven players not named Harris, Williams or Staten were a combined 4 for 25 from the floor.Perhaps under some circumstances an opponent's defense can be pointed to as a contributing factor in numbers like those, but that wasn't generally the case against Purdue. The Boilermakers did a good job defending in the paint with 7-foot A.J. Hammons (12 rebounds, four blocks) and others, but were not particularly aggressive in defending the 3-point line."Eron took a couple of tough ones, but most of our shots were step-in 3s,'' Huggins said. "At some point, you have to make those.''Indeed, Harris took some difficult shots and made some, although many were mid-range jumpers or drives to the basket. His toughest 3-point attempt was his last one and it never had a chance.Thanks to its inability to make shots, West Virginia had fallen behind by as many as eight points after leading by that many early. With just over a minute to play, the Mountaineers faced another eight-point hole, 69-61, but managed to battle back.
Harris made it interesting with a 3 with 12.9 seconds to go to cut the margin to 71-68, then after Purdue made one free throw, Staten drove to the basket and made it 72-70 with 4.8 seconds left. When Purdue's Terone Johnson (20 points) missed the second of a two-shot foul with 4.3 seconds to play, the door remained open.It was Johnson, though, who then closed it. Harris got the rebound on the missed free throw, raced up the floor and managed to position himself with a good look at a 22-foot 3-pointer. He got it off in time, but Johnson blocked it as the buzzer sounded."I guess he knew I was going to shoot it,'' Harris said of Johnson, who, if he hadn't known, might have been the only one in the Coliseum who didn't.The loss leaves West Virginia at 7-5, the same record the team had after 12 games a year ago en route to a 13-19 season. Purdue is now 10-3.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dphickman1