|Juwan Staten's crowd-igniting dunk helped propel West Virginia to an easy 82-45 victory over William & Mary Sunday at the Charleston Civic Center.
|Dale Sparks/All-Pro Photography photo
It was the dunk felt throughout the Charleston Civic Center.
The game was yet 10 minutes old and West Virginia was plodding along against William & Mary, the Mountaineers having previously allowed the Tribe’s Tim Rusthoven to score three straight times close to the basket when Juwan Staten
set sail to the rim.
When he landed the Civic Center crowd finally woke up, and more importantly, his teammates woke up. Staten’s thunderous dunk came right in the middle of a 21-2 flurry that turned Sunday’s contest into a rout.
“Yeah, I was hyped,” admitted sophomore guard Terry Henderson
. “I was right behind him, too, so I got the whole … he was like this (Henderson cocked his arm behind his head) so that was cool.”
“He’s a great playmaker,” added freshman forward Nathan Adrian
. “And when he makes plays like that it gets everybody going. From that point forward we never really let up.”
For those of us who know very little about basketball strategy, the vicious dunks are easily recalled. We almost always remember them, but to the guys who do this for a living, the subtle things are sometimes even more profound. That’s why Huggins tossed back a change-up when he was asked afterward about Staten’s crowd-igniting play.
“Honestly, I think the biggest thing is what (junior forward) Kevin Noreen
did,” said Huggins. “Kevin Noreen
kept the ball out of where they want to run offense from, and Brandon (Watkins) and Devin (Williams), neither one did. When Kevin got in that really changed the game.”
Rusthoven was no longer able to get those easy ones around the rim like he did the first three times William & Mary came down the floor, and soon the Mountaineers were off and running.
“That enabled us to get out into transition,” noted Huggins. “And obviously we’ve got to make jump shots because we’re not very proficient around the basket. When Remi (Dibo) missed the first one by like about 12 feet and most people (are not anxious to shoot it again right away) he’s over there clapping and wanting the ball back again.”
No, jamming cutters and keeping the ball out of the middle of the floor are not the things that most sane people are watching for in a basketball game. But seeing one of your guys set sail to the rim on the way to a big dunk IS SOMETHING we look for – and respond to.
“I’ve been talking to my teammates a lot about getting a dunk (like the one he got Sunday),” said Staten. “My freshman year I was on (Sports Center) Top 10, so I just felt like it was time to try and get another one. The opportunity presented itself and I just went for it.”
Getting a courtside view of Staten in action really gives you a better appreciation of his explosive playmaking ability. His speed with the basketball in his hands reminds me of Mike Boyd, who possessed some of those same explosive traits for the Mountaineers back in the early 1990s, and also of Greg Jones, one of Gale Catlett’s best players in the early 1980s.
But whereas Boyd was a little taller and Jones was much more physical with thighs as thick as tree stumps, Staten has a slighter build, which makes what he does when he goes to the rim that much more impressive.
It is clear that Staten is becoming the heart and soul of this year’s team. Usually, when good things happen for the Mountaineers it’s a result of something Staten has done – either a drive to the basket, an intermediate-range jump shot, a pass to the right player, a steal or a stop at the other end of the floor.
Hopefully, Staten’s crowd-igniting play on Sunday afternoon against William & Mary was a harbinger of the things to come for this young basketball team. West Virginia’s postseason aspirations now hang solely on its performance in the Big 12 after posting a very ordinary 8-5 record outside of league play.
Staten told a reporter following Sunday’s game that he believes West Virginia is much better equipped to having Big 12 teams adjust to what it does this year rather than the Mountaineers having to solely adjust to what Big 12 teams did to them last season.
Huggins agrees, with a caveat.
“If we make shots,” he said. “I’ve done this so long that I just hate to trust making shots. We’ve got to guard better and I think we took a small step in that direction today. You can’t give a dozen layups to people. Most people make layups and we’ve given layups all year, but I thought we did a better job today. I thought we got to the help line better today and I thought we did a better job of kind of standing our ground and not fouling than we have.”
Huggins concluded, “It’s got to be an everyday deal. It’s going to be hard for us to survive without everyone playing well.”
The second season begins this weekend at TCU when the Mountaineers face a much-improved Horned Frogs team that has already won nine games and is riding a six-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s conference opener.
After watching this team for 13 games, it is clear that West Virginia is going to have to make its jump shots, keep the other team from getting a bunch of close ones, and continue to get crowd-energizing plays out of its explosive playmakers like Juwan Staten
, that’s for sure.