After last Saturday’s 66-64 victory over Texas Tech, Bob Huggins was asked a question some Mountaineer fans have been asking themselves lately – why doesn’t he put freshmen Eron Harris and Terry Henderson on the floor together more often?
Harris is evolving into the team’s most dependable scorer, reaching double figures in five straight games and nine out of his last 10. During this latest stretch of games, Harris has had two 19-point games against TCU and Baylor, scored 18 in a big road win at Texas Tech and had 17 at Iowa State.
Henderson hasn’t been quite as consistent as Harris, but he has still produced some terrific games so far this year. He scored a team-best 23 points back in December against Michigan, had 21 in the Big 12 opener against Oklahoma and scored 17 in a recent win against TCU.
Harris has now taken over the team lead in scoring with an average of 9.2 points per game, including averaging 12.4 points in Big 12 games, while Henderson is averaging almost eight points per contest. Percentage wise, Harris and Henderson are the team’s two best 3-point shooters – Harris making them at a 39.3-percent clip while Henderson is shooting them in at a 39.2-percent rate.
On the surface, it would seem like a no-brainer to play both of them together more frequently, but Huggins says it’s not that simple.
“I’d love to play them,” Huggins said. “They’ve just got to do a better job defensively, and they’ve got to pass the ball better.”
In the Texas Tech game, West Virginia had a clear advantage in the post with Deniz Kilicli matched up against the Red Raiders’ much smaller front line. Kilicli scored 25, could have had as many as 32 if he made all of his free throws, and Huggins believes he might have scored 40 if his teammates would have passed him the ball when he was open in the paint.
But they didn’t, or couldn’t.
“Deniz didn’t get the ball when (Harris and Henderson) were in the game together and Deniz has got to get the ball,” the coach explained.
It’s clear both freshmen have a ton of ability. They are willing to take – and can make – big, clutch shots. Of course, that’s only one part of the many things that need to happen to win basketball games.
“They’ve got to learn and continue to work to expand their games, but putting those two guys on the floor – the way they both have the ability to make shots – is where we’ve got to get to,” Huggins said. “At the same time, they’ve got to be able to throw the ball to the big fella whenever he’s open - and guard their guy.”
For those who follow recruiting, Harris, despite playing at an outstanding prep program at Lawrence North High in Indianapolis, Ind., was pursued by mostly mid-major programs. One online listing had him rated as the 19th-best prospect in the state of Indiana, which doesn’t really sound all that impressive until you realize that 11 of those top Indiana guys were ESPN 100 players.
Henderson had a slightly higher rating coming out of high school than Harris, the guard boasting some ACC and Big East offers after scoring more than 2,300 career points at Neuse Baptist High in Raleigh, N.C. He was specifically recruited to give West Virginia’s perimeter shooting a boost – and he has.
And so has Harris, although Huggins admits that he didn’t really know what to expect from him when he first arrived on campus last summer.
“I thought he was a good player, and I thought he was going to be a really good player, but how do you know?” said Huggins. “We got Jabarie (Hinds) and Gary (Browne) back, and really for that matter A.B. (Aaron Brown); (Dayton transfer Juwan) Staten practiced with us all year, so you would think those guys would be a little bit ahead just because of their experience factor.
“But he’s learned pretty quickly.”
Still, there are times when Harris gets careless with the basketball or doesn’t stick as closely to his man as Huggins would like. Those are things Huggs says he must still work on, citing the first half of the Texas Tech game as a perfect example.
“The battle is to play every play and in the first half, Eron was really loose with the ball and turned it over,” said Huggins. “I thought he came back in the second half and really responded. The good thing about Eron is he’s not one of those guys who pouts and sulks. He keeps playing.
“What we’ve got to be able to get across - and get better at - is you have to play every play. You can’t take plays off; we take plays off,” Huggins continued. “We get a little bit of a run going, and because we don’t play every play, they take advantage of you. People at this level are too good to not play every play.”
Plus, there are some things that the older guards can do a little better than those two can do right now.
“Those of you who have watched all the games know that the guy who has thrown the ball to Deniz the best lately has been Gary Browne,” said Huggins. “Gary Browne is our best defender and Gary Browne has done the best job of getting Deniz the ball, so it’s a tough thing to take Gary out when he’s the guy who is delivering the ball to Deniz.
“The other thing is, when you’re 24 for 41 (at the foul line against Texas Tech) … Gary is also an 85 percent free throw shooter. It’s a matter of what do you think is the best thing to do. I thought Gary, in the second half, did a really good job defensively, and if you think back about the guy who got Deniz the ball the most it was Gary Browne. He’s the guy that we’ve kind of counted on to get him the ball.
“And I can’t play four guards.”
True, but it will be interesting to see what rotations Huggins goes with tonight against Kansas State, which is coming off a big blowout win against Baylor at home on Saturday that will surely keep the Wildcats near the top 10.
Tipoff for tonight’s game is 9 p.m. and ESPN will televise it nationally.
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Eron Harris, Terry Henderson, West Virginia Mountaineers, Big 12 men's basketball
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