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January 4, 2014

WVU wins back and forth contest 74-69

After undergoing a rough and tumble non-conference slate, the West Virginia Mountaineers opened up the 2014 Big 12 campaign Saturday in Fort Worth, TX on the right foot, dispatching the TCU Horned Frogs 74-69.

Both the Mountaineers and Horned Frogs appeared to be rather evenly matched as the game got underway, going blow-for-blow in the first three minutes of the contest.

With TCU opening up the contest in a 2-3 zone, Terry Henderson would take full advantage for West Virginia's first basket of the day. Sparked by great ball movement, Nathan Adrian would find Henderson in the far corner for an open three, putting the Mountaineers on the board first 3-0.

The Horned Frogs, however, would quickly answer on the other end. An open three for Amric Fields tied the game up and three, sparking a basket-for-basket scenario that the teams would battle for the remaining four minutes.

A three pointer by Juwan Staten, his fourth of the season, ended the opening stalemate, putting the Mountaineers up 10-8 at the first media timeout.

Exiting the timeout, TCU's Fields continued to be an offensive thorn in the side of West Virginia. The Horned Frog's junior forward, who entered Saturday's game averaging just over 13ppg., connected with his second three pointer of the game, and ninth point in six minutes of action, coming off a pick in the corner. The basket helped TCU retake the lead, 14-11.

But not to be forgotten, West Virginia's leading scorer Eron Harris made his presence known coming off the bench following the first timeout. Harris, playing under the weather Saturday with flu-like symptoms, answered Field's production with a pair of threes on back-to-back possessions, pushing the Mountaineers back to a 17-14 advantage with just over eight minutes down in the first half.

Meanwhile, the rest of TCU's lineup appeared to catch up with Fields on the stat sheet. Entering the game, the Horned Frogs maintained a rather respectable 30 percent shooting from three, but as the clocked ticked away in the first half TCU looked to dwarf that stat.

In the first 12 minutes of the contest, the Horned Frogs went a perfect 7-7 from three-point range, including baskets from four different players.

The Mountaineers tried to answer where possible, particularly from Harris who connected with his third three prior to the media break. But the hot-shooting streak helped TCU maintain a two-point advantage with seven minutes remaining in the half.
For the remainder of the half, the Mountaineers and Horned Frogs continued to play without much separation. TCU's hot shooting start cooled off, as the Horned Frogs went 0-3 from three after the hot 7-7 start, but several second-chance opportunities kept them in the mix.

Like the Horned Frogs, the Mountaineers were also forced to find looks in the paint to keep up with the games back and forth pace. An awkward layup from Remi Dibo and strong up and in from Adrian, cut West Virginia's deficit to one heading into the final media timeout of the half, 33-32.

A high-flying alley-oop from Staten to Harris would highlight the remaining four minutes of the span for the Mountaineers, helping Coach Bob Huggins' squad enter the locker room with a 42-39 advantage.

While hot shooting dominated the conversation in the first half, West Virginia's Devin Williams could be described as an unsung hero of the span. Williams notched nine points in the half, including a 3-3 performance from the free throw line, to help give the Mountaineers a halftime lead.

After the offensive showcase in the first half, it took both teams a while to regain momentum exiting the locker room. The Mountaineers capitalized first in the half with a strong second-chance dunk from Williams three minutes into play, giving West Virginia its largest lead of the game at five.

Several possessions later, a steal by Henderson and relay pass to Harris gave the Mountaineers a breakaway layup, putting them up 47-41 and forcing a timeout from the TCU bench.

The Mountaineers managed to pull out to an eight-point lead before TCU regained its offensive chops. A three pointer by Brandon Parish exiting the first media timeout broke a lengthy lull for the Horned Frogs from deep, cutting the deficit to five.

TCU would get to within two before the Mountaineers took full advantage of its most lopsided stat of the game - offensive rebounding. Midway through the second half, West Virginia held a 15-4 advantage on offensive boards over the Horned Frogs. This stat gave players such as Harris ample opportunities to help maintain a West Virginia lead.

An offensive board by Williams, and dish to Harris for the layup, pushed the Mountaineers ahead once again by five, forcing TCU to call a timeout down 55-50 with ten minutes remaining in the contest.

But the Horned Frogs would continue to chip away at West Virginia's lead. A 5-1 spurt helped TCU close to within a single point of the Mountaineers, with three of those points coming from the free throw line.

A layup from Harris helped the Mountaineers maintain the advantage, but the back and forth play continued between the two schools as West Virginia took a two point advantage into the under 8:00 media timeout.

Exiting the break, both teams went on a fast-paced exchange of baskets, sparked by a pair of threes from Fields and Harris, respectively. For several possessions, the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers would swap offensive success, keeping TCU within striking distance at the final media timeout, down 66-62.

But the Mountaineers would prove to be too much for Trent Johnson's Horned Frogs. The losses of guards Hill and Kyan Anderson to foul trouble hurt TCU's ability to slice into the West Virginia defense.

A three pointer from Parish provided the Horned Frogs a glimmer of hope with two and a half minutes remaining, cutting the deficit to two, but strong play from West Virginia's Staten kept the TCU deficit from diminishing further.

The Mountaineer guard took the game into his hands at the end of the contest, nearly answering the Horned Frogs shot for shot alone to help West Virginia seal the win.

Final: West Virginia 74, TCU 69.

The Mountaineers were led in scoring by Eron Harris, who contributed 22 points to the final total while battling the flu.

West Virginia returns to action Monday as they travel to Lubbock, TX to take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Tipoff is set for 7pm.

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