By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Big things steal headlines.
Little things win games.
That was the message in West Virginia University’s thrilling 68-67 victory over a previously undefeated Virginia Tech team before a crowd of 11,631, hardly the sellout that had been announced.
The big things, of course, were Juwan Staten’s go-head basket with 5 seconds left on the clock, coming on a drive to the basket seconds after a previous drive had resulted in his shot being blocked out of bounds.
Then there was an incredibly spectacular game out of role player Kevin Noreen, who not only hit the first two 3-point baskets of his career but finished with a double-double of 12 points and 14 rebounds, to say nothing of a pair of blocked shots.
In truth, Noreen’s play kept the Mountaineers even with Virginia Tech, the nation’s third highest-scoring team that was held 14 points below its average but still surged in the second half, almost stealing the game away on the Mountaineers home court.
But in a game this close, this hard-fought, there always are little things, be they the result of luck or effort, that influence the outcome, and two that went almost unnoticed really had a lot to do with this one.
As the game roared into the final minute, Noreen grabbed an offensive rebound, his fifth of the game, and put it back for a go-ahead basket that made it 65-64.
Now Virginia Tech comes back down the court, and when Erick Green, the nation’s third-leading scorer and the game’s top point-maker with 23, missed, Cadarian Raines grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled by WVU’s Aaric Murray as he tried to put it back up.
It was a good foul, for Raines surely would have scored and, as it was, he missed both free throws, which led to our first moment when little things meant a lot.
Murray went up and got the rebound.
“Exactly at that moment, I’m thinking, ‘Grab the ball, hold it tight, they’re gonna foul you.’ But it was like, ‘Hey, I don’t have the ball.’ I’m tiptoeing on the out of bounds line. It was like, ‘Get it, get it,’ and my hands are slippery,” Murray recalled.
Then he was fouled. If he doesn’t hold the ball, if it slips through his hands and goes out of bounds or if he steps on the end line, which he missed by just inches, ball goes back to Virginia Tech and who knows how this comes out.
Move forward nine seconds, the Hokies having taken the lead on a 3-point shot unlike too many you will ever see by Robert Brown, who finished with 21 points. This one was banked off the backboard … hard.
“It was demoralizing, but we knew we had time and could get another shot off,” Noreen said.
“That shot he hit off the glass rattled all of us because I thought we played great defense,” Staten said. “Da’Sean Butler grabbed me real quick going back to the huddle and said, ‘Keep your head up; we’re coming to you with the ball.’”
There were 18 seconds left on the clock and the Mountaineers came down, called a time out, put Deniz Kilicli and Keaton Miles into the game and set up a play.
“We were running a one-on-four, an isolation play,” Noreen explained.
Noreen was in the corner to try and draw someone to him, Kilicli on the other side and was the first option, but he wasn’t open. So Staten drove to the basket and put the game on his own shoulders, only to get banged as the shot was blocked.
In the process of all this, he went flying out of bounds, and that brings us to the second little thing that turned the game.
As he hit the floor, the basketball came whizzing by him.
“It missed my leg by inches,” he said.
Had it hit his leg while he was lying out of bounds, it would have gone over to Virginia Tech.
But it missed and WVU had one more chance.
It came down to Staten again, which was an interesting decision for the WVU guards were not exactly shooting lights out.
In fact, for the game, guards Staten (1-6), Jabarie Hinds (1-9), Terry Henderson (2-6) and Gary Browne (1-10) were a combined 5 of 31, which hardly inspires any confidence.
Staten had confidence.
“I said I’m going right back in there. I know what they’re doing. I know where their help is coming from, so I’ll draw a foul or hit one of our bigs if they leave them. But the lane opened up and I had a clear path to the layup.”
And so it was that the Mountaineers won their third straight game and went to 4-3 on the season while Virginia Tech stands at 7-1.
WVU returns to action on Tuesday when it travels to Duquesne for a 7 p.m. game at the Palumbo Center.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.