End Of Half Shot Pivotal Moment For WVU Season?
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When the time comes to write the history of this West Virginia University men’s basketball season, we may come to look back upon Feb. 18 as the day to remember and Jermaine Haley as the man who saved it from disaster.
Certainly, the buzzer beater from the corner hit by Haley at the end of the first half provided the plasma that saved the life of a dying team, and that is just what West Virginia was as the clock ticked off the final seconds of the first half against Oklahoma State.
A day after the NCAA announced that it stood as a No. 2 seed for the March tournament in the first rankings, the Mountaineers unraveled like a cheap baseball on the playground.
One loss. Two losses. Three losses.
True, two of them were against the Nos. 1 and 3 teams in the country, but a loss is a loss is a loss.
The offense was stagnant, the defense indifferent and it got no better when they took the court on Tuesday night as an 11.5-point favorite against an Oklahoma State team they had held to 41 points on the Cowboys’ home court earlier in the season.
But as the final seconds of the first half ticked off the clock, WVU was looking at an eight-point deficit and people were wondering if coach Bob Huggins was ever going to catch Dean Smith for sixth place on the all-time wins list.
WVU had the ball under their own basket, four seconds left. Failed once to get the ball in. Failed twice to get the ball. Failed a third time to get the ball in, leaving less than a second on the clock when the ball was passed from out of bounds to Haley in the corner.
A miracle was needed and Haley had one to use at the moment. He sent the ball sailing toward the basket, saw it hit and bounce around, then hang precariously on the rim. If it had fallen to the floor, WVU’s season might have gone down with it.
See, if they lost this Oklahoma State game they would have taken a four-game losing streak on a two-game road trip to TCU and Texas and it well could have grown to six games as WVU has struggled on the road this year with No. 1 Baylor still on the schedule for the season’s last game.
Haley knew how important the shot was.
“I thought it would go straight in. I didn’t think it was going to roll in like that,” he said. “The basketball gods were with me. Put the ball in the hoop.”
It was like the moment in Frankenstein when the monster came to life.
WVU went into the locker room on a high. Even Huggins was whipped up at halftime.
“I told them to throw it to Jermaine in the corner every time he was down there,” Huggins joked after the game. “No, not really. We talked about what we have to do defensively to do a better job.”
The problem usually is a defensive one when you allow the opposition to shoot 62 percent.
And guess who was key in the defensive changes he made — Haley.
Actually, Haley has to share top billing here with Derek Culver, who had been in a funk throughout the losing streak, but now was ready to score, play defense and rebound.
“You can’t underestimate what Derek (Culver) did,” Huggins said. “You’re talking about a 6-foot-9, 200 and whatever he is. — 265 or 270-pound — guy who can sit down to stay in front of people. Make them shoot over him, and then, when he wants to be a shot blocker, he can block shots.
“I thought the first couple shots he blocked got their attention a little bit. They were a little less eager to drive it at the rim after that, and then he scored for us. I think the other thing is that they were getting more than one shot. It generally came after the ball got kicked around or whatever. When
Derek got in there, I think he rebounded everything.”
And then there was Haley, who has a forward’s height at 6-foot-7 but a guard’s feet. He can play and did, his long wingspan making it tough to go or pass around him and his height keeping smaller players from seeing over him.
All of a sudden, what were easy shots in the first half were now tough shots.
In the entire second half Oklahoma State scored only five baskets – or one every four minutes.
Defense was back, and the old WVU team that had enjoyed the ride until this losing streak was back because of Haley’s basket.
“You guys could tell we were having a lot more fun playing defense,” Deuce McBride said. “We were talking more. Every rebound we got was just a great feeling. We got a stop and we knew we were going to go down and score
“That’s something we have to keep reminding each other, keep playing defense and that gets the offense going.”