MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Juwan Staten was shooting .000 percent from 3-point range this season, so, of course, West Virginia’s game-tying 3-point attempt came off his hot hand.
As if those odds weren’t long enough, the 5-foot-10 Staten found himself trying to snap his season-long oh-fer while swallowed up by 7-footer Isaiah Austin and that Plastic Man wingspan of his.
West Virginia’s final possession should not have spooled down to such a hopeless matchup, not when the Mountaineers’ best three 3-point shooters were on the court: Eron Harris and Terry Henderson stationed in each corner, Kevin Noreen looming at the top of the circle. But WVU’s season, and particularly its depressing run of late-game situations, haven’t followed design.
“After (Baylor) switched, I looked over to Huggs and he was looking back at me. He wasn’t really giving me a sign to do anything, so I looked up at the clock and knew that I had to make a play.” — Juwan Staten regarding WVU’s last possession
Down 65-62, here was West Virginia’s plan for the final 17.9 seconds:
Staten would get a ball-screen from Noreen just across halfcourt. Then the point guard would come off that screen crisply and drive to the basket for a quick two, or kick to the either corner for a 3, or pass back to Noreen spotting up for a 3.
Yet here’s how the final 17.9 seconds actually transpired:
Noreen screened Bears guard Pierre Jackson with 12 seconds left, and Baylor switched, leaving the elongated Austin on Staten some 24 feet from the hoop. Instead of trying to take the 7-footer off the dribble, Staten lost his aggressiveness and tried to reset the play on the left wing.
What did Coach Bob Huggins want at that point?
“If they’re going to switch, then you have to get to the rim and score and foul them,” Huggins said.
Noreen’s take: “Some thought Wannie would drive to the basket and score by going around the big. Some thought I should have re-screened for him and he would’ve kicked it back to me for a 3. We didn’t do either.”
What was spinning though Staten’s mind at this juncture?
“After they switched, I looked over to Huggs and he was looking back at me,” Staten said. “He wasn’t really giving me a sign to do anything, so I looked up at the clock and knew that I had to make a play.”
More from Staten as he processed a situation that was looking more dire by the second:
“Getting the ball out full court … by the time I had it, it was like seven seconds left, and it would have been kind of hard to get to the basket, score and then foul,” he said. “So we just had to go for a last-second shot.”
Finally, with seven seconds left, and the two-point drive no longer an option, Staten tried to push Austin off the 3-point line, but the big Baylor freshman was too smart to allow Staten space to shoot. He deflected the jumper, which fell into the lane to Jackson, who dribbled out the final seconds as the WVU Coliseum crowd of 6,588 over the late-game mismanagement.
“I knew the defender was long, so I was I just tried to go at him and back him up and get a shot off,” Staten said. “(Austin’s) length was a little too much. I thought I had enough room, but once those long arms went up, it was a different story.”
And what about Staten’s three-year, 3-point drought? During those fateful, frustrating final seconds against Baylor, was Staten rattled or at least made reluctant by the fact he hasn’t sunk a jumper from behind the arc since Feb. 16, 2010?
“At the end of the day I’m a basketball player. I’m a competitor,” said Staten, now 0-of-9 on 3-pointers this season. “I don’t care if I hadn’t made a 3 all year, if the ball’s in my hands with a chance to win the game I’m going to take the shot with confidence.”
Love the moxie. Hate the shot selection.
“At the end of the day I’m a basketball player. I’m a competitor. I don’t care if I hadn’t made a 3 all year, if the ball’s in my hands with a chance to win the game, I’m going to take the shot with confidence.” — Juwan Staten, now 0-of-9 this season 3s and 4-of-35 in his career
But what other storyline could WVU generate, considering its series of near-misses in an arena where the Mountaineers were once purported to be stingy? Just add Baylor to Oklahoma, Kansas State and Kansas on the expanding list of games that got away.
“(Baylor) guarded it really well, but we didn’t execute either,” Noreen said in eulogy of that final, dreadful possession. “I didn’t do anything, and Wannie didn’t do anything. We got stuck in a hole and got a bad shot because of it.”
Staten’s 3-point percentage this season remains .000, which seems right in line with his team’s performance in clutch scenarios.