Juwan Staten missed his first five shots before driving for the go-ahead layup with five seconds left and West Virginia nipped previously unbeaten Virginia Tech 68-67.
The Hokies (7-1) looked like they might escape after pulling ahead 67-66 on Robert Brown’s 3-point bankshot with 18 seconds left. But West Virginia regrouped during a timeout and trusted its point guard to make the decisive play.
Though Staten had his first driving attempt blocked out of bounds by Virginia Tech’s Jarrel Eddie with 10 seconds left, he told himself, “I’m going right back in there.”
Taking the inbounds pass at the top of the key, Staten saw a pick coming from the left by Kevin Noreen — WVU’s surprise double-double star of the afternoon. Yet, Staten drove right as two Hokies defenders prepared to switch.
“The paint just opened up and the layup was there,” said Staten, who finished with six points, five rebounds and two assists.
Staten’s job wasn’t done, however, as Virginia Tech used a timeout to construct an isolation play for its point guard, Erick Green, the nation’s No. 3 scorer at 24.9 points per game.
Green drove against Staten, pulled up inside the 3-point line and misfired at the buzzer, finishing with 23 points and 10 assists.
“I thought he was going to try to get to the rim and draw a foul, so I tried to give him a lot of room early and bait him into taking a jumpshot,” Staten said. “It was ‘Back up, back, back up,’ and as soon as I saw him getting his feet ready, I just tried to push up and get a hand up.”
Virginia Tech coach James Johnson was happy with how Green attacked the final possession. “I liked the shot,” said “It was a very good look.”
Aaric Murray led the Mountaineers with 15 points, including going 2-of-3 from 3-point range. Noreen also sank two of his 3-point tries, finishing with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Unable to pound the ball inside against Virginia Tech’s sagging defense, WVU finished 10-of-24 on 3s.
“They had to play like that to win the game,” Johnson said. “We weren’t going to let them throw it down there and post up.”
That limited West Virginia forward Deniz Kilicli to five points, though he grabbed seven rebounds, helping WVU to a 49-38 margin on the boards.
Freshman Eron Harris added 10 points and five rebounds for the Mountaineers who used a 13-0 run to lead 27-15 with five minutes left in the half. The Hokies recovered quickly, pulling within 30-24 at the break and opening the second half on a 16-6 spurt, a period in which WVU coach Bob Huggins described his defense as “God-awful.”
The deficit was 52-47 when Keaton Miles sank a 3-pointer to start an 11-2 WVU run.
HOKIES PLAY HARD
Playing only its second road game of the season, Virginia Tech was primed to leave Morgantown with a win after Brown’s late-game 24-footer banked in for a one-point lead.
“That shot that he hit off the glass kind of rattled all of us because we played great defense,” Staten said. “But as we walked backed to the bench, Da’Sean (Butler) said Put your “head up, we’re coming to you with the ball.”
Noreen admitted Brown’s 3-pointer was “demoralizing, but at least we still had time on the clock.”
“They made shots, but at the end of the day we had the lead,” Virginia Tech’s Johnson said. “They had to make a play (at the end), and they had to go all the way to the basket. Those guys shot the ball with confidence and made shots they haven’t been making all year.”
DEPTH MAKES DIFFERENCE
Huggins used 10 players as West Virginia owned a 36-4 edge in bench scoring over Tech, which went just eight deep. However, Huggins did not utilize newcomer Volodymyr Gerun, who was eligible after a six-game NCAA suspension.
“I guess it let the world know we’re not as bad as everyone assumed.” — Aaric Murray on the impact of WVU’s win Saturday
WHO’S GOT NEXT?
The Mountaineers play Tuesday night at Duquesne (5-4), which was an 88-70 winner over New Orleans on Saturday.