MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins had a big problem.
Star freshmen Oscar Tshiebwe and Deuce McBride both picked up their third fouls early in the second half of Saturday’s game against Baylor, and without either on the floor the No. 4 Bears certainly had the talent to not only take the lead over the Mountaineers, but run away with the game entirely.
Huggins briefly turned to Brandon Knapper as a solution, but a bad turnover ended that experiment early.
It became time for West Virginia’s fourth option at point guard — Jermaine Haley, who has spent the majority of his senior season playing small or power forward.
Haley’s presence immediately seemed to settle down everyone around him. By the time McBride returned to the lineup as a shooting guard nine minutes later, West Virginia had turned a two-point deficit into a three-point lead.
“Jermaine played extremely well,” said fellow senior Chase Harler. “He pretty much controlled the game in the second half.”
This was nothing new for Haley, who grew up playing point guard and played the position frequently last season in Beetle Bolden’s absence.
“I feel the most comfortable when I have the ball at the 1,” Haley said. “I haven’t played much of it this year. But I would say that’s my natural position, just kind of orchestrating everything not only on offense but defense as well.”
Haley showed off one of the benefits of having a 6-foot-7 point guard late in the second half, protecting the rim with a rejection of 6-9 Baylor forward Freddie Gillespie on a dunk attempt as the Mountaineers nursed a three-point lead.
When Huggins put McBride back into the game with 7:08 remaining, he kept Haley on the floor to run the show. It was beneficial to McBride, who scored seven of his 12 points in that arrangement.
“He’s going to make the right play almost every time,” McBride said. “He’s been playing college basketball so long that it’s like having a grandpa out there.
McBride played more relaxed as a shooting guard, never picking up a fourth foul.
“You see the game through a whole different perspective, honestly,” he said. “I trust Jermaine with the ball — really all of our guards with the ball. If I can play off the ball, I can do a lot of different things that I’m capable of. So it’s nice either way.”
Haley’s numbers weren’t extraordinary — nine points, three rebounds and two assists. But in his time playing the point, the Mountaineers outscored Baylor 48-34.
“It felt like [riding a bike],” Haley said. “I can honestly say I haven’t felt better about how I’ve played all season.”
That it happened in his final home game made it all the more special.
Home was more of a concept that a reality for Haley growing up. Haley said WVU is the first school he has attended for two consecutive years since he was in fifth and sixth grade.
The Vancouver, British Columbia native crossed the continent to get here, stopping at New Mexico State and Odessa (Texas) Junior College before finally finding his place to settle in.
In a way, it’s painful that it’s already over. But it ended on the perfect note.
“This is picture-perfect,” he said. “I said I wouldn’t get emotional. But after seeing everybody pack the stadium and how loud it was, I’m definitely going to miss playing here.”