MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Sounding more like a second-year psych major than a sophomore shooting guard, Eron Harris could only surmise that subliminal hangups were to blame for West Virginia’s inability to beat good teams.
This was the aftermath of Saturday night’s 73-72 loss to No. 11 Oklahoma State—a game WVU led until the final 11.6 seconds.
“Maybe some people aren’t used to winning, aren’t used to being the guy that won the big game or the team that won the big game,” Harris said. “Some people are scared to be great like that.
“That’s a hump we need to get over. It’s a mental thing. At the end of the game can you be as confident as you are at the beginning of the game? In big games are you a confident as you are in small games?”
So deflating was the OSU loss—played before West Virginia’s largest home crowd of the season—that hangover questions persist for Monday night’s game against unranked Texas, which figures to draw far fewer than the 12,078 who showed up Saturday.
From a player’s perspective, Harris predicted his teammates would have their minds recharged for the Longhorns, whom WVU narrowly swept last season, winning 57-53 in Austin and 60-58 in Morgantown. Back then both teams were Big 12 bottom-feeders; this year each has designs on cracking the league’s upper-half.
“Every game in the Big 12 is going to be tough for us,” Harris said. “There’s no use in sulking about (Oklahoma State)—we need to move on a try to beat Texas.”
Tipoff: Monday, 7 p.m. in Morgantown (ESPNU)
Records: The Longhorns (12-4, 1-2) opened eyes with their 86-83 win at North Carolina on Dec. 18, the highlight of a 10-1 start. They’ve cooled off a bit but don’t have any bad losses—falling to BYU on a neutral floor, to Oklahoma State on the road and to Michigan State and Oklahoma at home. … West Virginia (10-6, 2-1) has dropped three straight games at the WVU Coliseum by a total of eight points, losing to Gonzaga 80-76, Purdue 73-70 and Oklahoma State 73-72.
RPIs: Texas is No. 59 and WVU is No. 78.
Coach: Proof that seats turn hot for coaches too quickly in college basketball, Rick Barnes (572-293 overall) endured questions about job security after Texas failed to reach the NCAAs last season. Never mind that Barnes had taken UT to the Dance in all 14 previous seasons. His record since coming to Austin in 1998-99 is 370-159, nearly a .700 winning percentage that includes the school’s only Final Four appearance and two other Elite Eights.
Texas top players: While Barnes has made an annual harvest of blue-chip talents, he found an underrated gem in true freshman point guard Isaiah Taylor—a three-star recruit out of Houston who was overlooked by other top-tier programs. So far Taylor has started all 16 games and is averaging 11.2 points and 3.8 assists. He’s one of four freshmen playing appreciable minutes. … Sophomore center Cameron Ridley (10.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.2 blocks) is a load at 6-9, 285 pounds and gets to the foul line almost seven times per game. … Jonathan Holmes (12.7 points) is 6-8 stretch-four who sank a corner 3 to force overtime against WVU last season in Austin. … After starting 23 games as a freshman, Javan Felix (11.1 points, team-high 179 field-goal attempts) has taken to the sixth-man role this season. He’s a stocky 5-11 player comfortable penetrating or launching from 3. … Be on dunk alert if Demarcus Croaker catches the ball in transition. The 6-4 rookie has hops that could make Markel Brown envious.
WVU roster notes: Terry Henderson (11.9 points, 82-percent foul shooter) is coming off his best all-around game as a Mountaineer, compiling 21 points, six rebounds, four assists and three blocks in the loss to Oklahoma State. He has made clutch 3-pointers in back-to-back games—forcing overtime at Texas Tech and temporarily putting WVU ahead in the final 90 seconds against OSU. … Eron Harris (18.1 points), Juwan Staten (17.0 points) and Devin Williams (10.1 points) also score in double figures. … Harris is shooting better than 42 percent from 3s this season but only 28 percent in his last six games. He and all of WVU’s perimeter shooters figure to get open looks against Texas, which ranks last in the Big 12 in 3-point defense (35.6 percent). … Williams is fourth in the league in rebounding at 8.1 per game.
Line: West Virginia -4
Prediction: West Virginia 77-74