|Freshman guard Chase Connor gave West Virginia a big lift with his three 3-point field goals on Saturday against TCU.
|Dale Sparks/All-Pro Photography photo
Connor walked out onto the floor following the first media timeout of Saturday’s game against TCU when the Mountaineers were slogging their way through a game they desperately needed to win.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins knew the Horned Frogs would eventually falter in the second half because they have all season with only seven scholarship players left on its roster, but it was still the first half and his young team was stuck in the mud against TCU’s 2-3 zone defense.
So he put his freshman walk-on point guard from Shady Spring, W.Va., into the game to see if he could give the team a boost.
Did he ever.
Connor hit three 3s in a span of 2 ½ minutes to turn a six-point deficit into a one-point lead. Right after that, Juwan Staten
made a driving layup and then Eron Harris
followed with an alley-oop dunk. Order had been restored.
“He gave us energy because you really don’t expect him to come in and hit three straight, but at the end of the day we do really expect him to do that because that’s what he does – he shoots 3s,” said Harris. “I was proud of him. As soon as he came over I said, ‘you better go hoop Chase because we’ve seen you hoop before, so don’t go out there and act scared.’ I said, ‘go out there and be ready to shoot because you know that’s what you are in for.’”
Harris knew everything was going to be OK once Connor got his first jumper to go down.
“I told some of the guys on the bench ‘that’s the only one he needed. He’s not going to miss anymore,’” said Harris. “He hit two more and everybody was going crazy.”
Connor, too, was glad that first one went through the cylinder.
“The first one helped, but the second was even better,” he said.
“Chase is somebody who can make shots,” added Staten. “We’ve all seen him make shots. He just really hasn’t had his chance in the game, but with Terry going down we definitely needed some more outside shooting. His number was called. He was ready and once he hit his first 3 we were looking for him, and I was proud of him that he was shooting the ball with confidence.”
Coming off the bench when you haven’t played much and catching up to the speed of the game is one of the most difficult things to do in sports. Add to that not being totally sure of what you’re doing – or if you can even do it – and that makes it even more difficult.
“It’s got to be hard just sitting over there,” said Huggins. “I played him early and he didn’t make a shot – and didn’t come close to making a shot. I said, ‘If I put you in (Saturday) are you going to get the yips?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, I did last time.’ But he came in and played with a lot of confidence.”
Fortunately, Chase left his yips in the locker room, and with him knocking down those big early shots, the Mountaineers were soon on their way to an easy 81-59 victory - one West Virginia sorely needed to remain in postseason contention.
So once again, who is this Chase Connor
? After all, he’s not even listed in this year’s media guide printed before the start of the season.
Well, Conner led the state in scoring last year as a senior at Shady Spring High, located just south of Beckley. He originally made a verbal commitment to play for Radford, but after he broke his leg in an ATV accident during the summer of his senior season he reconsidered.
Following a rapid recovery, Connor played well as a senior, averaging more than 27 points and handing out 6.4 assists per game. Soon, West Virginia came into the picture and offered him a chance to join the team as a preferred walk-on player.
Wearing the Old Gold and Blue and playing for the West Virginia Mountaineers was something Connor simply couldn’t turn down, even if Radford and some other schools in the Big South had full rides waiting for him.
“I had a lot time to sit there and think,” he said. “I thought about it more and more and I started talking to West Virginia and I just wanted to come here.
“They told me come here and work hard, and there’s always a place for a shooter,” he added.
“We’re very fortunate here because you get (walk-on player) Richard Romeo
, who is from the state, and obviously Chase. Chase turned down some low Division I offers to come here because (he) love(s) the University so much and love(s) the state so much,” said Huggins. “Kids come here dreaming of playing here.”
So far this season, Connor’s nine appearances leading into the TCU game were about as non-descript as can be. He failed to make a shot in five attempts, playing a total of 25 minutes in mop-up situations. But when Henderson was sidelined a week ago because of illness and West Virginia was down an outside shooter, Connor’s value shot up like Apple stock.
Then, when Huggins saw his guys throwing up brick after brick during a recent practice, he pulled Connor aside and asked him if he could go in and make some shots. He said he could, so the coach put him into Saturday’s game – much to the surprise of the TCU assistant coach who had the West Virginia scout. Who the hell is this guy? That had to be what he was thinking to himself when Connor began raining 3s from all over the court.
Now, with regular season games remaining against Oklahoma and Kansas, you can bet Chase Connor
’s name will be on their scouting reports. He was the guy who knocked down those 3s in rapid-fire succession against TCU.