MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There was Chase Connor—the home-state walk-on, the kid who had yet to score a single point all season—sinking three straight 3-pointers. He fired them with all the pluck and ease of practice jumpers launched back at Shady Spring High, a shooting flurry that sent the West Virginia crowd into delirium and the TCU coaches back to their scouting reports.
Rarely have nine first-half points scored in an 81-59 blowout felt so important.
Yet those points were important. Because a sickened Terry Henderson sat out a third straight game. Because a sickly TCU squad led West Virginia 13-7 after five dreadful minutes. Because Bob Huggins needed a zone-buster.
So Huggins turned to the freshman Connor, who led the state in scoring last year and hadn’t scored a lick this one. His season-long shooting line read 0-of-5. His Big 12 action to date amounted to two 1-minute appearances.
This time was different, though, and WVU’s top scorer Eron Harris sensed it.
“I told him when he got up, “You better go hoop, Chase, because I’ve seen you hoop before. Don’t go out there acting scared,’” Harris said.
As he stroked three 3s in 2:18 to put West Virginia ahead, Conner wasn’t shooting scared. On the final week of the regular season, he finally had his first points as a Mountaineer.
“It took long enough,” he joked.
Harris was jumping out of his skin on the bench. “When he hit that first one, I told the guys, ‘That’s the only one he needed. He’s not going to miss no more.’”
Fans had hoped all season that Connor, after averaging 27 a game in high school, could contribute to this team. But during rare and intermittent appearances in the nonconference schedule, he didn’t look comfortable.
“When I put him in earlier this season, he didn’t come close to making a shot,” Huggins said. “So I asked him if he could go in without getting the yips, and he said, ‘I don’t know. I did last time.’”
As you’d surmise, Harris said the scout-team Connor had played far better than the gametime version. It was a matter of making that confidence translate from the practice facility to an arena with nearly 13,000 on hand.
“What have I seen Chase do in practice? Exactly what he did today, but 10 times more,” Harris said. “When they play against us with the scout team, they don’t have rules. They just do whatever they want to do. They have no worries about making mistakes, so they do their best moves … and we get in trouble.”
This time it was TCU in trouble, as Connor energized his team out of an early-game drowsiness. The player who passed up a scholarship to Radford for a shot at a lesser role with the program he loved finally had some validation.
“It felt good to have everybody cheering for you,” Connor said. “It means a lot to come in and contribute and be a part of the game.”
Even if it was game No. 29.