Staten's dunk unravels Tribe
In the grand scheme of things, it was but two points. Perhaps without it, West Virginia would have beaten William & Mary 80-45 Sunday at the Civic Center instead of the actual score that will go into the books, 82-45.
Then again, during a season in which West Virginia has at times muddled through both wins and losses — generally doing what was expected and not much more than that — maybe it was the kind of fire-starting spark the Mountaineers had so often lacked.
It came early. Just seven minutes had elapsed and WVU was still in a dogfight. William & Mary had led 6-2 and the game was still tied at 8 before Remi Dibo's second-chance 3-pointer — he'd missed his first try of the possession, Bob Huggins would later surmise, "by about 12 feet — gave the Mountaineers the lead for good. On the other end, Omar Prewitt missed a 3 and Juwan Staten got the rebound.
He never hesitated.
Staten grabbed the missed shot at about the free-throw line and practically chased Terry Tarpey straight down the middle of the floor. At the other end he had options to the right of him and trailing him to the left. He disregarded both.
Instead the 6-foot-1 point guard went straight at the stunned Tarpey and absolutely tomahawked the ball into the basket. A crowd of 8,885 went nuts and a moment later Dibo drained another 3-pointer. West Virginia was into a 15-0 run and the game would never be close again.
It was, quite simply, the beginning of the end of the game, a rout in which the Mountaineers (8-5) would ultimately lead by as many as 40 points. It was also the kind of game-changing play — a series, in truth, if you count Dibo's 3s — that West Virginia sorely lacked in so many other of its 13 non-conference games.
"That dunk,'' Terry Henderson would later say, "really set it off. A lot of times we haven't been able to make plays like that. It gets you going.''
It certainly got Staten going. It's not that he hasn't dunked before. He has. The fact is, he had one just as impressive early this season over Joey van Zegeren at Virginia Tech, but it was waved off because of a foul just before he launched.
This one, though, counted. It would propel the junior guard to a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double and, just as significantly, ended what he considered a long drought.
"My freshman year I was on [SportsCenter's] Top 10 with one,'' Staten said of his days before transferring from Dayton. "I thought it was about time I got another one.''
Staten's posterizing slam fueled the fire. Before it was over, Henderson was collecting a season-high 19 points and freshman Nathan Adrian was hitting shot-clock-beating and fall-away 3s on his way to 16 points.
Huggins, though, fairly dismissed those contributions in favor of another. It came from oft-forgotten junior Kevin Noreen, who would finish the game with just three points and six rebounds.
That's because in the early going, back when William & Mary (6-5) was scoring almost at will inside behind lumbering Tim Rusthoven and taking that 6-2 lead and remaining tied at 8, it was Noreen who ultimately disrupted the Tribe. With WVU's two freshmen inside players hobbled — Devin Williams had back pain after squeezing his 6-9 frame into a Greyhound bus to return home from Christmas break and Brandon Watkins was with puffed lips and without two teeth after a practice mishap — Noreen stepped in to deny William & Mary its offensive flow.
"You kind of know what bothers the Princeton offense and we didn't do anything to bother it to start the game,'' Huggins said. "Kevin Noreen finally started keeping the ball out of where they wanted it.''
And once that happened the game was essentially over. The Mountaineers turned that 8-8 tie into leads of 23-8 and 37-16 in the first half, doubled the score late at 72-36 and eventually at 80-40 and finished in cruise control. William & Mary's usually-precise offense was all over the map, shooting just 25.5 percent.
The bottom line, though, is that the win was still just another that the Mountaineers were supposed to get. That it came against the highest RPI-rated team WVU has beaten this season matters little because the Tribe still wasn't even in the Top 200.
With the end of non-conference play, though, the schedule now gets more difficult. This weekend brings a two-game road trip to TCU and Texas Tech on Saturday and Monday, followed by a visit from No. 7 Oklahoma State a week later. That's the beginning of an 18-game league schedule in a conference, the Big 12, that is currently No. 1 in the RPI.
If nothing else, though, the lopsided win can't hurt WVU's confidence.
"It's hard to tell [how well they played] because of the level of the competition. We've played some good games before this,'' Staten said. "But it's definitely a confidence builder.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1