MORGANTOWN - West Virginia turned conventional basketball on its ear Saturday afternoon in a last-second, 68-67 victory against previously unbeaten Virginia Tech at the Coliseum.
Aaric Murray and Kevin Noreen, both 6-foot-10 big men, each hit a pair of 3-pointers to keep the Mountaineers (4-3) close, then 6-1 point guard Juwan Staten beat Hokies' 6-7 forward Jarell Eddie on a layin with five seconds left with what proved to be the game-winner as the Mountaineers won their third straight game.
"It's not supposed to work like that, but we'll take it," said Noreen, who set career highs in points (14), shot attempts (10), rebounds (12), and minutes played (33), plus made the first two 3-pointers of his career.
West Virginia’s Juwan Staten (3) celebrates with Gary Browne (14) following Saturday’s victory against Virginia Tech.
"That game was crazy from start to finish," added Staten, who finished with six points and two assists, a reflection of the numbers of a lot of the Mountaineers guards had on Saturday, which is why the big men were so free to let them fly from downtown.
If the guards weren't making them, what chance did the big fellows have in the eyes of Hokies defenders, who were much busier worrying about what was going on in the paint?
Noreen's effort from beyond the arc (2 of 3) was a surprise and it wasn't. On one hand, only two players in the history of Minnesota High School basketball had ever made more 3s than he did during his prep days. On the other, during parts of three seasons of college basketball at WVU, he'd attempted exactly one.
The difference, WVU coach Bob Huggins said was, basically Noreen finally attempted some.
"He'd never shot the ball," Huggins said. "He wants to win. He just felt like there were some other guys who should get the shots other than him. I hope this is something for Kev that he'll feel more comfortable stepping into shots."
As for Murray, what else was he going to do? The Hokies made it obvious they wanted to double the post and they were paying absolutely zero attention to anyone standing behind the arc who had made one 3-pointer or fewer all season (he was 1-of-3).
"They just left me standing out there so I said, 'hey, let me let it fly, you know?,' " Murray said
On his first one, he could have reloaded the Mountaineer mascot's muzzle loader before taking the shot. It looked as if he was preparing for a free throw. The next one was only slightly more contested. To boot, Miles Keaton, a 6-6 forward, hit one too.
"We're a team," Murray said. "If the bigs are having a bad day, the guards have our back. If the guards are having a bad day, we have their back."
Staten's winner aside, the Mountaineers got a total of 29 points out of a rotation of six guards - the same number of points Murray and Noreen combined for. Those guards were a combined 9 of 30 from the field.
The Hokies went ahead prior to Staten's layin as Robert Brown banked in a 25-footer with 18 seconds left that put his team up 67-66.
Erick Green ultimately was off on a 17-footer with Staten in his face as the buzzer sounded, setting off a wild celebration from a sold-out crowd that was hoping to see just that the Mountaineers end an unbeaten run to start the season by edging their former Big East rivals.
In the first half, the Mountaineers ripped off 19-of-23 points during an eight-minute spurt that allowed them to turn an 11-8 deficit into a 30-24 lead at halftime.
Included in that run was a long-ball by Murray and six points, three rebounds and an assist by Noreen, who had eight rebounds at halftime.
Eron Harris joined Murray (15 points) and Noreen in double figures for the Mountaineers with 10 points.
Leading the way for Tech was Green with 23 points and Brown with 21.