MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Don’t count Eron Harris among the legions who think West Virginia’s only shot at an NCAA bid is winning the Big 12 tournament.
He thinks winning the final two regular-season games would be enough to send the Mountaineers (16-13, 8-8) dancing.
“We still have a chance,” Harris said after West Virginia beat TCU 81-59 on Saturday. “I think if we get these next two games, we’re definitely in, regardless. They’re going to be tough, though.”
Yes, Wednesday’s trip to Oklahoma and Saturday’s home finale against Kansas look daunting in their own right. And taken as a tandem? Sheez. They’ll certainly be far tougher than the TCU team West Virginia dispatched with a 21-2 second-half run.
Harris led WVU with 18 points before playing postgame bracketologist.
“We’ve jut got to win those next two games,” he said. “If we do that, we’re in the tournament.”
The Mountaineers, who had dropped three straight games, remained in sixth place in the Big 12—one game up on Baylor and Oklahoma State in the loss column. Teams that finish in spots No. 7 through No. 10 must play a first-round game at the conference tourney, while the top six receive a bye.
That tournament just happens to transpire in Kansas City, where masses of Jayhawks fans turn the Sprint Center into Lawrence East. And reading between the lines of Harris’ comments, he rightly figures WVU has better odds of beating Kansas in Morgantown.
“The chance of winning the Big 12 Tournament is not big,” he said. “It’s the best league in the nation, and everyone in the league doesn’t have the same chance of winning it.”
SLOW FIRST HALF
As TCU led by six points early, shot 50 percent and trailed only 39-36 at the half, the Frogs (9-19, 0-16) seemed capable of finally snapping their conference skid.
“Our intensity level wasn’t as high as it needed to be for as high as the stakes were at this game,” point guard Juwan Staten said. “At halftime, Coach got to us and gave us a little piece of reality—told us what we needed to do if we had hopes of playing in the postseason.
“We came out in the second half with a different mentality.”
TCU made only 29 percent in the second half, and the biggest dropoff was point guard Kyan Anderson, going 0-of-5 and failing to add to his 10 points.
Out-rebounded in its previous five games, West Virginia owned the boards 44-29 against TCU, which had only one player taller than 6-foot-6 available.
Devin Williams paced WVU with 10 boards, part of his first double-double since Jan. 11.
“Yeah, Jan. 11 … how many months is that? That’s a long time,” Williams joked. I feel good and I feel like I worked for it. My mom always says what you put in is what you get out. So I’ve been trying to stay focused and prepare right.
“I actually got to play a whole game without fouling or getting in foul trouble, so that was a big part of it.”
TCU’s only true big man—6-foot-10 freshman Karviar Shepherd—scored 14 points but snagged only three rebounds in 38 minutes. Ray Jarvis, at 6-foot-6, grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds.
With yet another Big 12 loss developing, TCU coach Trent Johnson sensed his guys “stopped competing” on a few late-game possessions.
“Got worn down. We’re not deep enough, we’re not talented enough to get a lot done at this level of play right now,” Johnson said. “But this was the first time in a long time I thought our guys shut it down late.
“I thought there was some fatigue, some frustration. And if you’ve ever been in that situation as a competitor, you know what that feels like.”