Haley Not Ready For WVU To Go Home Yet
Like his team in general, Mountaineer junior guard Jermaine Haley is catching fire as the season comes down the home stretch.
The junior college transfer managed to scored more than seven points just three times in his first 26 games at West Virginia, with a top output of 13 points.
But he’s scored at least 11 points in each of the last seven games and has helped WVU to four wins in that stretch. It had lost 12 of its previous 14 prior to this latest improved spurt.
After averaging only 3.6 points per outing for his first 26 games this season, Haley has averaged 17.6 points a game in the most recent seven. That includes 11 points in Thursday’s 79-74 upset of Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament semifinal.
A native of Vancouver, Canada, Haley isn’t taking all the credit for himself.
“Everyone stepped up; it hasn’t been just one guy. Emmitt (Matthews) obviously had an amazing game tonight,” said Haley of the freshman forward who had a career-high 28 points in the win over the Red Raiders. “He started out early, which was good for us.
“We knew they were going to try to come back. Teams are going to go on runs, but we just stayed composed. Mental errors have been a big thing for us this season. I know we still had a lot of turnovers (17) tonight, and we’ll talk about that going into the next game.”
A key sequence in West Virginia’s victory over Texas Tech (26-6), which is ranked No. 7 in the country and was the Big 12 Tourney’s No. 2 seed, came with 23 seconds left and the Mountaineers’ clinging to a 72-71 lead. WVU’s Lamont West received the ball in the paint from freshman teammate Jordan McCabe. West was immediately surrounded by a pack of Red Raiders, but he was able to dish off to a cutting Haley, who not only scored a layup but also was fouled on the play. The ensuing free throw gave WVU (14-19) some breathing room as it went on to record the upset.
“Lamont did a great job finding me in traffic, and I just had to put it in the hoop,” Haley stated matter-of-factly.
As well as West Virginia played offensively Thursday, Haley was just as proud of his team’s defensive performance. Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver scored 23 of his 26 points in the second half, but Haley thought WVU’s effort on the Red Raider star was still pretty good.
“We just tried to key on him, because he’s obviously a great player and the Player of the Year in the Big 12 Conference,” Haley noted, as Culver needed 24 field goal attempts, of which he made 11, to get his 26 points. The Tech sophomore guard also was 0-of-6 from three-point range. “We knew he liked to go right and scores well going to his right. He got a couple of buckets, but I think we slowed him down when we needed to. We played gang defense tonight; everyone chipped in.”
With the win, West Virginia advances to the Big 12 Tournament semifinal for the fourth straight season. Unlike the last three trips to Kansas City, though, when the Mountaineers were a top 20 club, not many expected this year’s WVU squad (14-19), which entered the Sprint Center as the last-place team in the league, to make much noise. But Haley and his teammates are the surprise of the tourney.
“I’m proud of everyone in here,” said the 6-foot-7 guard. “We haven’t given up. We’re getting better with each game. We’re not done yet
“All these games have been amazing,” Haley added. “I just want to keep this run going. I don’t want to go home yet.”
West Virginia will face No. 3 seed Kansas (24-8) in Friday’s semifinal. That game, which will be televised on ESPN2, will tipoff around 9:30 p.m. The Jayhawks advanced by virtue of a 65-57 victory over Texas in Thursday’s quarterfinal round.