WVU's Juwan Staten shoots ahead of Willam & Mary defender Terry Tarpley. The shot was much gentler than Staten's tomahawk dunk over Tarpley.
THE CIVIC CENTER had not been kind to West Virginia University forward Nathan Adrian.At all.Back on March 13, Adrian was playing for Morgantown High when his Mohigan team visited the arena for a state tournament game against South Charleston. MHS lost. And Adrian, the state's most celebrated high school player because of his pact with WVU, played poorly.He did finish with 17 rebounds and 17 points, but the latter was on 6-of-20 (30 percent) shooting. He was 1-of-6 from beyond the 3-point arc. He missed at least five bunnies."Bad," Adrian said at the time. "There's no way I can shoot 6-of-20 and expect [MHS] to win.""I remember missing a lot of shots," said the forward on Sunday. "I should have played better."Against William & Mary, Adrian did. The true freshman connected on 6-of-7 shots from the floor and 4-of-5 from beyond the 3-point arc. He had 16 points along with a block, a steal and a rebound in 15 minutes of work.Back on Dec. 14, when WVU played Marshall at the Civic Center, Adrian played but four minutes. All he had to show for it: a turnover."This is the first time I've ever played good here," Adrian said Sunday. "It feels good."
One has to take into account WVU's relatively weak Sunday opponent. (The Tribe did defeat Rutgers earlier in the year, but the Mountaineers' 82-45 rout accurately described the game.) Still, Adrian's play was a good sign as his team heads into Big 12 play."We wanted [Adrian] to be more assertive," said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. "At the start of the year, he was more assertive. Then he became passive."It might have had something to do with the competition, but he ought to be able to rebound and hit open shots. Today he shot extremely well."The kid played extremely well. In the first half, he had a nice long-armed tip-in. In the second half, it was as if he were playing H-O-R-S-E. First, he connected on a trey from the left corner to make the score 58-30. When William & Mary's Brandon Britt converted in an attempt to keep the Tribe close, Adrian answered. Kevin Noreen gave him a nice baseline feed into the right corner. Three points.Shortly thereafter, Adrian lifted the 8,885 in attendance with a trey as the shot clock was expiring. Finally, he seemed to be showing off with three more from the top of the key. All that was left was one from the left wing.
"As soon as I saw that first shot go in, I knew I wanted to keep shooting," Adrian said. "I kept getting the shots I wanted and they kept going in."
Adrian finished second in scoring on the day to Terry Henderson."When [Adrian] came in, he was kind of quiet," Juwan Staten said. "We knew he could play, but he was kind of quiet. Now he's rebounding, hitting the offensive glass and diving for the ball. He's maturing."And bleeding. In the loss to Purdue, Adrian was smacked in the nose. Against William & Mary, he broke it — and was called for the foul."I'm proud of him," Staten said. "It shows how tough he is.""I've learned I've got to work hard all the time," Adrian said. "When I have a bad game it's when I get lazy. Coach has been on me to get in the gym and work harder. I have. It works."Now Adrian and his teammates have their work cut out for them. At 8-5, with no quality victories on its resume, WVU will have to win more than they lose in Big 12 action.
"We didn't step up when we needed to," Adrian said. "We needed to win at least two or three of the games we lost. Hopefully we can make that up in conference play."That certainly won't be easy. But WVU — and Adrian — took a small step forward on Sunday."We came out of the Purdue game with a bad taste in our mouths," Adrian said. "We wanted to show something. I think we did that. We showed how good we can play defensively ... We just need to keep doing that."The Tribe, using a Princeton style-offense, shot but 25.5 percent from the floor. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers were consistently hitting inside (they had 15 fast break points) and outside (eight 3-point conversions).For Adrian, it was a good day to be at the Civic Center. It was a good day to start to erase that performance against South Charleston."It helps," Adrian said with a smile. "It doesn't really make up for that loss because I can't go back. But it does help."Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.