MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The envious tone from Eron Harris was readily audible, rising above the echoes of the bouncing basketballs on the Coliseum floor.
West Virginia’s leading scorer offered a succinct but glowing scouting report on No. 20 Gonzaga, a team that has plastered WVU by a combined 57 points the past two seasons and now comes to Morgantown for a Tuesday night game.
“Their whole team competes,” said Harris, comparing the Bulldogs’ nonstop effort and chemistry to programs like Kentucky and Duke. “We need to get to that level where we go hard every possession.”
He was particularly complimentary of the steady productivity shown by guards Kevin Pangos (19.8 points per game) and Gary Bell (13.5 points), two juniors Harris figures to match up against when tonight’s game tips at 9 p.m. on ESPN2.
“I see two basketball players with a good head,” Harris said. “They’re confident. They’re not big, they’re not super-fast or athletic—but they’re comfortable as players.”
Gonzaga (8-1) suffered its lone loss to Dayton 84-79 by blowing a double-digit lead at the Maui Invitational. In that same event, however, the Bulldogs beat Arkansas 91-81. Their other seven wins have come by an average margin of nearly 24 points.
Harris was a nonfactor in West Virginia’s 84-50 loss at Gonzaga last year, playing seven minutes in garbage time and attempting only one shot. That night in Spokane, Wash., he was a far cry from the freshman who closed the season as the Mountaineers’ go-to scoring option, so Harris feels like this is essentially his first shot against the Bulldogs.
“We can shock the nation,” he said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do in front of a packed crowd, hopefully we’ll have that for the rest of the year.”
But will there be a packed arena? Through five home games West Virginia is averaging only 5,789 attendance—about 41 percent capacity of the WVU Coliseum. A series of lesser-known opponents could bear partial blame, yet on the heels of the two smallest crowds of Huggins’ seven-year tenure, and with some students bolting early for Christmas break, there are questions of whether a ranked opponent like Gonzaga can generate a sizable turnout.
“I need it for my psyche,” joked coach Bob Huggins. “I’m tired of walking in there and seeing so many empty seats.”
On Monday night former West Virginia star forward Kevin Jones and ex-Mountaineers tight end Anthony Becht used Twitter to encourage a big crowd. The school is offering tickets at a discounted price of $10.
“When our students are into it, this is a great place,” said Huggins. “Over the years, West Virginia has played great in this arena, to a large degree because of the fan base. And when you don’t have that, you lose a little (energy).
“The people who have tickets that don’t use them—if they’d just give them to somebody, so we’d have people in here, that would help considerably. As they say, we’ve had too many people disguised as empty seats.”