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February 27, 2013
The bleeding never stops for the 2012-2013 West Virginia basketball team.
Coming off an uninspired performance against Oklahoma State this past weekend, the Mountaineers came out strong early Wednesday night at the WVU Coliseum. But a heartbreaking second half drop-off by Bob Huggins' squad helped the Baylor Bears eke out a 65-62 win.
It was an atmosphere of change to commence the game, with Head Coach Bob Huggins undergoing wholesale changes to his lineup and defensive philosophy in the early minutes. The starting lineup for West Virginia featured transfers Matt Humphrey, Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten in a combo rarely seen this season.
Furthermore, Huggins broke out an old standby defense in the early going, starting out the game with his players in the 1-3-1 zone.
Baylor, however, would quickly attack the Mountaineer's zone defense with an open outside shot from Brady Heslip. The Bear's guard, who torched the Mountaineers with 20 points and strong shooting in last month's matchup, cooled off following the basket, missing his next three open attempts.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers stuck with the Bears basket-by-basket until the first media timeout, with Eron Harris picking up the shooting slack of Heslip. The freshman guard connected on an open corner three, and with Staten connecting on an outside jumper put West Virginia down only 6-5 with four minutes down.
Momentum would briefly swing in West Virginia's favor exiting the timeout with strong post play from Deniz Kilicli. The senior big man, who was backed down into interior traffic, connected with a one-handed slam on his third attempt to give the Mountaineers their first lead of the game.
But there would be no separation. Baylor quickly answered with back-to-back baskets from Isaiah Austin, giving him eight of the team's 12 points, and pushing Baylor into a 12-11 lead at the second media timeout.
Austin continued to dominate the box score for Baylor coming out of the timeout, with his second three pointer of the game. The trifecta pushed Austin's point total to 11 in only nine minutes of play, and gave the Bears a 17-11 advantage.
A change in the lineup for the Mountaineers closed the deficit, with West Virginia putting in the guard trio of Gary Browne, Jabarie Hinds and Terry Henderson for the first time of the night.
Of the guard, Henderson quickly made the largest impact, grabbing a missed Kilicli jumper mid-air, putting it back and cutting the Baylor lead to two. A pair of free throws by Kilicli on the ensuing possession tied the game at 17 heading into the media timeout.
The hot start for Henderson continued out of the timeout, as the freshman connected with an open jumper and contested three from the top of the key, giving him seven quick points and the Mountaineers a 23-19 lead.
Fellow freshman Harris would join Henderson in extending West Virginia's lead. The young guard received the ultimate "gimmie" opportunity, being fouled by Baylor's A.J. Walton during a three point attempt. All three free throws would find the net for Harris, giving the Mountaineers a 26-21 lead at the final media timeout of the half.
Exiting the timeout, the Mountaineers continued to look like a team few have seen throughout the season. A runner from Staten, slicing through a previously impenetrable Bears defense earlier this season, and jumper by Harris gave West Virginia a 30-21 lead and forced Baylor coach Scott Drew to call a timeout. The back-to-back baskets gave capped off a 19-4 run for the Mountaineers, inevitably one of their largest in conference play.
Baylor would attempt a late-half comeback with guard Pierre Jackson hitting a long three pointer late in the shot clock, cutting West Virginia's to five.
However, the Mountaineers would not let Baylor get any closer. Led by 14 points from Harris, and a late half contribution from Volodymyr Gerun, the Mountaineers maintained a 34-29 halftime advantage.
Opening up the half, the Mountaineers wasted little time picking up where they left off, with Kevin Noreen demonstrating some rarely-seen skills. The sophomore big man, known primarily for his hustle and shooting, showed some aggression, driving the lane and hoisting up a contested layup. The basket pushed the Mountaineer's lead back to five, 36-31.
Fellow sophomore Staten also contributed to the Mountaineer's strong attack, rolling off a Gerun screen on the ensuing possession to nail an open jumper from the foul line.
However, the real offensive success ran through Harris. Following Staten's jumper, the Bears rallied with a brisk 5-0 run to cut West Virginia's lead to a pair.
But with the hot-hand of the evening, Harris, on consecutive possessions, torched the Bear's defense for a jumper and layup, giving the freshman 18 points on the evening and West Virginia a four point lead.
With the way this season has been going for West Virginia, however, no lead can ever seem comfortable. After holding a nine point lead earlier, a lengthy run by the Bears cut the Mountaineers advantage to a single point at the under 12:00 media timeout.
Led by six points in a minute and a half span from Walton, Baylor utilized a swift dribble-drive attack to catch West Virginia defenders off guard, slowly closing the gap in a restless Coliseum.
A pair of three pointers by Baylor's Gary Franklin and Austin, just past the ten minute mark, gave the Bears their first lead of the half at 53-50. The 14-6 run by Baylor forced a frustrated Huggins to call a timeout just prior to the under 8:00 media timeout.
Frustration began to boil over for the rest of West Virginia's squad coming out of the timeout, with a tie-up between Harris and a Baylor guard nearly ending in physicality. A foul on the ensuing possession gave Baylor its largest lead of the game at five.
A string of controversial calls from the officiating crew, however, helped to bring the Mountaineers back into the hunt. Riling up the otherwise sparse Coliseum crowd, West Virginia cut the lead back down to three with a second chance layup from Harris, pushing him to a career-high 23 points.
Another controversial foul called on Staten pushed the Bear's lead back up to five at the final media timeout of the contest.
It would be back and forth for the next two minutes before Kevin Noreen brought the house down in Morgantown with his patented "Northreen" from the corner. The trifecta closed the gap for the Mountaineers to a single point with a little over one minute remaining.
After stopping the Bears on the ensuing possession, the Mountaineers regained control of the ball with approximately 40 seconds remaining.
With Coach Huggins calling a timeout with 32 seconds left on the clock, the Mountaineers inbounded the ball to Harris with the chance at victory. The freshman, who had been clutch all evening, clanked the open look off the front iron and into the hands of a waiting Baylor defender.
A quick foul and two points gave the Mountaineers one last shot at tying the game. With the ball in Staten's hands, the sophomore guard attempted a buzzer-beating three, only to be blocked as time expired.
Final score: Baylor 65, West Virginia 62.
The Mountaineers were led in scoring by Eron Harris, who notched a career-high 25 points in the loss.
West Virginia falls to 13-15 on the season. They will return to action this Saturday as they travel to Lawrence, Kansas take on the sixth-ranked Jayhawks. Tipoff is at 2pm.
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