The 11,631 fans inside the WVU Coliseum didn’t know Kevin Noreen could shoot from the 3-point line. The West Virginia players didn’t know if he would, and the coach on the Virginia Tech bench didn’t mind if he did.
Yet twice during a nip-and-tuck second half, the 6-foot-10 Noreen swished his vintage-brand set shot from beyond the arc, displaying a pop-a-shot stroke to the delight of fans and teammates.
A sophomore who attempted zero 3-pointers in West Virginia’s first six games this season and had missed his only freshman-year try, Noreen became an integral offensive component in Saturday’s 68-67 win over Virginia Tech. He scored 14 points (after scoring eight previously all season), grabbed 12 rebounds (seven on the offensive end) and played 33 minutes (nearly 21 above his average).
Though Noreen eventually missed his third and final 3-point attempt of the afternoon, he showed he’s more skilled than the screen-setting piece of meat for which many fans (and media members) took him.
“I’ve got the third-most 3-point makes in Minnesota (high school) history,” he said after the win, explaining why the area 20-feet, 9 inches from the basket isn’t exactly mystical to him. “It was kind of nice to cycle back to that way of playing today.”
If you’re wondering why a big man who dominated the small-school classification in Minnesota would ever attempt a single shot from 3-point range, much less knock them down in near record-setting volume, Noreen explains he wasn’t always the tallest kid on the court. When he began playing varsity ball as a seventh-grader, “I was only 5-9 or 5-10, so I wasn’t posting up back then.”
The shooting touch never deserted Noreen because even as he developed a low-post body that helped him win a Mr. Basketball Award and a scholarship offer from West Virginia, he never stopped developing his jumper.
“He’s got to shoot a thousand shots a day,” estimated Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins. “If he’s not in class, he’s in the practice facility.
“I think if there are kids out there that want to be a basketball player, he’s a great role model.”
As Virginia Tech exaggerated its defensive game plan of sagging off the perimeter (a perfectly rational strategy after watching WVU chuck up clunkers the past month), it became incumbent for Noreen and starting center Aaric Murray to utilize the wide-open spaces afforded them.
Murray, like his mate from Minnesota, sank 2-of-3 from 3-point range, and the Mountaineers hit 10-of-24 overall — 41-percent shooting that seemed anomalous to their 23-percent season-to-date average. During a 20-point, five-minute flurry in the second half, WVU made six straight 3-pointers. Among them were both of Noreen’s treys, buried like daggers early in the possession — stunning versatility for the guy Virginia Tech coach James Johnson respectfully categorized as “kind of a trash player.”
And until Saturday’s performance, there was no disputing Noreen’s role as WVU’s garbage guy. He was a lead-blocker in the half-court offense, finding scraps off loose balls and deferring to other shooters, even as teammates encouraged him to take the shots that were available to him.
“We know that he’ll do anything for the team, but we’re always on him about shooting the ball,” said point guard Juwan Staten. “He’s open a lot, but he hesitates and never really shoots it. For him to come out shoot the ball tonight, we’re all proud of him.”
Teammates call Noreen “Sweat,” short for “Big Sweat,” and the dude was indeed soaked after WVU climbed above .500 for the first time this season. The nickname actually traces back to Noreen’s first summer on campus, when the Mountaineers already had another Kevin (Jones), so strength coach Andy Kettler stuck Noreen with a handle. “It was either Little Kev or Big Sweat,” Noreen said. “I don’t really like it, but at least it gets you known for something.”
Saturday’s results left Huggins beaming on multiple fronts: from spoiling the unbeaten start of the rival Hokies, to resuscitating his own team’s hopes of producing at least a palatable nonconference record. But clearly, the proudest moment Huggins saved for Noreen.
“I hope now he’ll feel more comfortable stepping into his shot,” Huggins said. “Those shots were there before, but Kevin wants to win, and he felt like other guys needed to be shooting instead of him.”
The coach recounted that when he recruited the kid out of Minneapolis, Noreen carried no grand illusions about his athleticism or his inability to play above the rim. Even after becoming the state’s all-time leading scorer with 4,000-plus points, Noreen sought reassurance from Huggins.
“He asked me, ‘Can I play there?’” Huggins recalled. “And I said, ‘I can’t answer that. That’s on you. It depends on how hard you work.’”
Saturday’s win proved WVU can depend on Noreen to pick up more than the trash.