Haley’s Turnaround Continues As WVU Downs Grand Canyon in CBI
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Maybe the turnaround for the Mountaineer men’s basketball team since late February hasn’t been a complete 180, but it certainly has been in the 120-degree neighborhood.
West Virginia’s improvement continued Wednesday night with its 77-63 victory at the WVU Coliseum over Grand Canyon in the first round of the Collegiate Basketball Invitational.
No one will confuse the CBI field with the NCAAs, but for a Mountaineer squad that finished the regular season with a 12-19 record and is still just 15-20, the experience gained with additional postseason games could prove to be invaluable if WVU hopes to return to past glories next season.
“West Virginia has a good young team with good young players,” said GCU coach Dan Majerle, who knows a thing or two about the game, having played 14 years in the NBA. “Jermaine (Haley) continues to kill me, just like he did at New Mexico State (where the Mountaineer junior originally played).
“I’ve watched a lot of West Virginia,” added Majerle, whose Antelopes finished the season with a 20-14 record. “They’re playing well. Those young kids are playing free. I knew Coach (Bob) Huggins would get things turnaround. We competed against them well, especially on the boards, in the first half, but the second half, we just ran out of gas.”
The Lopes got out to a good start and led by as many as six, 17-11, in the early going. The Mountaineers fought back, though, and tied the contest at 20-20 on a Brandon Knapper jumper with 8:24 left in the period. From there, the two clubs jockeyed back and forth for the remainder of the half, as they exchanged the lead three times and were tied five more. A couple of Haley buckets in the final 33 seconds, including a dunk off a steal by Chase Harler and a feed by Logan Routt, sent the Mountaineers to the locker room with a 36-32 lead and a lot of momentum at halftime.
The team rebounding was even after the first 20 minutes, but in the second half, WVU owned the boards with a 26-13 advantage in that area.
Sparked by those two late baskets, Haley charged through the second half. He led WVU on a 22-2 run over a five-minute span to turn a very close game into a rout.
The 6-foot-7 guard, who began his career at New Mexico State, and then had a stopover at Odessa College before landing at West Virginia last summer, finished with 24 points on the night, which is the second most in his Mountaineer career.
After averaging just 3.0 points per game through his first 26 games with WVU, Haley has averaged 16.9 points per game in his last nine outings.
“We saw it in practice, but we never saw it in a game,” said Huggins of Haley’s ability to score during the first few months of the season. “Jermaine didn’t want to be seen as a pig. He enjoys passing the ball. We had to get on him (to shoot it more).”
Haley’s assist numbers are the same through the past nine games as they were through the first 26 (2.2 per), but his scoring has improved significantly in large part because he’s become more aggressive shooting the basketball. He took an average of just 2.0 field goal attempts per game through the first 26 contests, but is averaging 10.1 per since.
“I’ve been playing different than I’ve played in the past,” noted Haley. “I’ve had to play a few different roles since I came here, but I’m willing to do whatever coach asks me to do. If that’s pass the ball, I’ll pass it. If that’s shoot it, than that’s what I’ll do. Anything that helps the team be successful, I’ll try to do.”
Haley’s emergence has coincided with West Virginia’s overall improvement. It has now won five of its last eight games, after going 10-17 prior to that.
“Jermaine is a big-body guard who is fast and strong and can really score,” noted WVU freshman Derek Culver, who had seven points and 10 rebounds against Grand Canyon. “He also has a really high IQ, and you add all those together and you have a helluva player. He’s just now hitting his stride.”
For Haley, who has now reached double figures in scoring in eight of the last nine games, and Culver, who has had double figures in rebounds 14 times this season, and all of the other young Mountaineers, the additional game experience that comes with the CBI may not lead to national glory, but it hopefully will lead to bigger and better things in the future.
West Virginia’s CBI journey continues on Monday when it hosts Coastal Carolina (16-16) at 7 p.m.