MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - On Wednesday night, West Virginia got a taste of how much a shooting specialist can influence a game when Texas Tech sharpshooter Dusty Hannahs made all seven of his 3-point tries and had 25 points at the Coliseum.The Mountaineers survived Hannahs' performance, of course, winning the game 87-81. But they can hardly breathe a sigh of relief and assume that sort of thing is behind them. The fact is, a whole bunch of Big 12 teams have sharpshooters just as good or better than Hannahs."Yeah, it does seem like they're everywhere,'' West Virginia point guard Juwan Staten said. "You just have to prepare for them and be ready to try and defend them.''As West Virginia (11-8, 3-3 Big 12) embarked Friday on a five-day, two-game road trip to the Southwest, it was with defending marksmen like Hannahs among its goals. Both teams the Mountaineers face on this trip have them.This afternoon brings a 2 p.m. (ET) game against No. 11 Oklahoma State (15-3, 3-2) in Stillwater, Okla. The Cowboys will trot out Phil Forte, the Big 12's leading 3-point shooter in both percentage (50.0) and total number (53). The game, televised by ESPN2, is a rematch of the one the Cowboys won 73-72 two weeks ago at the Coliseum on a late Markel Brown 3-pointer.Then Tuesday night in Waco, Texas, the Mountaineers face No. 24 Baylor (13-5, 1-4) and Brady Heslip. Heslip is second to Forte in both percentage (48.1) and total 3-pointers (52).Hannahs, by the way, ranks only fifth and ninth in those categories and he just torched the Mountaineers."Shooters have those nights,'' West Virginia's Eron Harris said. "I've had them, Terry [Henderson] has had them. We've all had them and [Hannahs] had one. It was almost like there was nothing you could do about it.''Indeed, Harris and Henderson have had some great nights. Henderson just had one with five 3s and 28 points against Hannahs and the Red Raiders. Harris, despite some recent struggles, is still third in the Big 12 behind Forte and Heslip in 3-pointers and sixth in 3-point percentage (41.5).
But the Mountaineers really don't have anyone in the mold of Forte, Heslip and Hannahs. They are players who usually come off the bench - Forte and Heslip haven't started a game this season and Hannahs doesn't anymore - and whose primary (and sometimes only) function is to make long-range shots in order to score quickly and spread defenses.Guys like Harris and Henderson can make shots, as can Nathan Adrian and sometimes Remi Dibo. But they aren't generally players whose range on a hot night extends well past NBA 3-point range and whose presence just suddenly and sometimes surprisingly changes how defenses must play.That's what West Virginia faced Wednesday and will now face the next two games. While those shooters certainly aren't the only aspect of the opponents with which WVU has to be concerned, they add an extremely dangerous component that has to be addressed if they are shooting well."It all goes back to taking away what teams and players do well, their strengths,'' said Harris. "When we play Oklahoma State that's what it comes down to, taking away Forte's 3s and limit Marcus Smart and Markel Brown's scoring.''So how does a team take away shooters like that? Well, it's not as if West Virginia has exactly figured that out. In addition to Hannahs' performance Wednesday, Forte went off for six 3-pointers and 26 points the last time the teams played in Stillwater and Heslip had six 3s and 20 points when WVU played at Baylor last year.But there have been times when those players haven't had the touch, too. Heslip missed all six of his 3-point attempts last year at the Coliseum and Forte made just three of his eight tries earlier this month in Morgantown.
"The best way to stop them is to make sure they don't get the ball in the first place,'' Staten said. "We let [Hannahs] get the ball. You can't do that.''If the Mountaineers are able to do even a little bit of that it could help them at least try to stay afloat during what is a brutal stretch of games coming up. In addition to facing ranked opponents in Oklahoma State and Baylor, West Virginia's next six games are against teams currently in the Top 25, as are 10 of the remaining 12 regular-season contests.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.