COLUMBIA, Mo. — In one brash and telling moment, Eron Harris tried to fulfill his calling as West Virginia’s top scorer. Tried to lift his team and himself out of a malaise. Tried to cut into Missouri’s 17-point lead. Tried to do too much.
A one-on-one wiggle, followed by a step-back 3-pointer.
It was Harris at his most hungry and desperate, determined and undisciplined. Harris, ultimately, at his most ineffective.
Missouri’s Jabari Brown blocked the shot, leading to an easy transition dunk by Jordan Clarkson. Even as Harris collected the ball on the opposite baseline he sensed what was nearing.
Timeout Bob Huggins. Exit Eron Harris.
“You ever see Ray Allen dribble between his legs and shoot fade-aways? No,” Huggins told Harris. “And he’s the greatest 3-point shooter in the history of the NBA. You do what you do. You do what you’re good at.”
Benched with 18:22 left to play, Harris—the Big 12′s second-leading scorer at 20.2 points per game—didn’t return until the 8:48 mark. What did Huggs hope his developing star might gain from 10 minutes of reflection?
“Eron has got to be Eron Harris,” the coach said. “Eron Harris is pretty good, but he’s got to be Eron Harris—he can’t be somebody else. When he’s somebody else he’s not very good.”
On a night Harris clearly pitched as a measurement for himself and WVU’s program-in-recovery, the sophomore played a season-low 19 minutes, scored a season-low eight points, attempted a season-low six shots.
“It’s hard to shoot from where he was most of the game,” joked Huggins. “Not going to get many shots from over there.”
Regarding that extended stint on the bench, Harris responded with proper grip—feeling angrier with himself than his coach. The kid who has been so dogged, energized and resolute about making WVU a winner again, realized he stepped outside himself.
“I was just trying to get myself going,” he said of the forced 3-pointer. “(Missouri) keyed on me and I really couldn’t get any rhythm shots that I usually get. So I got into a create-a-shot-for-myself type of mode. And those aren’t shots that I usually take, so I looked bad.”
Looking bad became fashionable for several Mountaineers on Thursday night, when Mizzou threatened to chase WVU out of the arena. While affording cursory credit to the still-unbeaten Tigers, Huggins cited his own team’s sluggish passing and mismanaged possessions.
The West Virginia team that entered the Big 12/SEC Challenge averaging 85 points and ranked No. 3 nationally in 3-point accuracy? It scored one point in the opening eight minutes and missed 15-of-19 from 3 and went on to lose the game 80-71. It shot 27 percent in the first half and promptly missed 5-of-6 to begin the second half—including the out-of-sync jumper that sent Harris to the sideline.
“We didn’t score seemingly for about an hour-and-a-half. So I would say we shot ourselves in the foot—or blew our head off, whatever you want to write,” Huggins said.
“We took horrible shots. And it wasn’t like we had to take them at the end of the shot clock. We had time to get better ones.”
While Huggins has invested heavy trust in appointing Harris and point guard Juwan Staten the alpha dogs of this team, their development necessitates playing to their strengths and knowing their limits otherwise. Both players ambitiously tried operating outside the system at times against Mizzou, with Staten forcing more bad passes in the span of two hours than he had the previous eight games.
“You would hope that they would stay more in-character,” said Huggins. “Obviously, they didn’t tonight.”
No, but once Harris returned to the court he made two driving layups and scored six points—part of a never-say-die run that got Mizzou’s attention during the final minute.
And though WVU dropped its sixth straight road game dating back to last February, there also is this flicker of good news: The next game’s at home.
On Tuesday. Against Gonzaga.
A high-functioning team that can give a clinic on staying in character.