So many things happened in the final 30 seconds Monday night, things we’ll attempt to cover and spotlight here, things that get lost in the shadow of Juwan Staten’s offense and defense in the last 8.3 ticks. Above them all is this: At the biggest moment of the biggest game West Virginia has played this season, an offense that can really struggle to shoot and score, an offense that puts so much pressure on everything else the team does, an offense that has had so few things go right, that same offense suddenly had everything go as planned to beat RPI No. 1 Kansas.
You think about that.
Screen, inbound, defensive indecisiveness, possible officiating oversight, left-handed layup. It was all there when the Mountaineers needed it all to be there.
In truth, it was a little more complicated than that, and it began on the possession before Staten scored, when WVU’s heretofore iffy halfcourt defense kept the Jayhawks from adding to a 61-60 lead. The Mountaineers were giving up steady drives to Frank Mason, and Perry Ellis was getting what he wanted inside. If it wasn’t going to be there for them, then Wayne Selden was ready to make a play off the bounce or on the perimeter. Kelly Oubre, who used his length to get in the paint or to shoot jumpers over defenders, was out on the perimeter waiting to strike. Jamari Traylor had the area under the basket for an offensive rebound. There was a lot going on out there, a lot for the Mountaineers to cover.
And they did.
Mason missed a layup and Nathan Adrian, who was great despite missing four open 3s, battled enough to secure a valuable team rebound.
That was the first break. WVU wanted to defend there rather than foul, and it worked.
“At worst, we were going to have to come down and make a 3,” coach Bob Huggins said. “The people they had on the floor, we talked about fouling, but they took the guys out we were going to foul at the end of the game. They had Ellis, who had just made free throws. They had Mason, who made everything he threw up. They had Selden, who is shooting in league play 50 percent from 3 and you figure he’s going to make free throws. The had Brannen Greene, who’s probably the best shooter in America. Who are you going to foul? We had to get a stop.”
Well, you’re not going to foul Greene because wasn’t in the game. It was Oubre. That’s not exactly a great trade for WVU, though. Oubre was 2 for 2 from 3-point range and was hard to keep out of the paint when he wanted to get in the paint. He’s also missed one free throw since Jan. 24.
Let’s not forget Huggins factored his team into the thought process, too.
“If you don’t have Juwan Staten, you’re probably going to foul, even though they have the people they had in the game,” Huggins said. “You’d hope they miss a free throw or you come down and try to hit a 3.”
WVU had Staten, which mattered most at the end, but that was due in large part to everything else that happened in the final moments.
Here’s how the Mountaineers remember the closing sequence.
Huggins: I wanted Wanny coming with his shoulders facing toward the basket. I wanted — I don’t want to say all this. Then people are going to know what we want to do the next time. But it’s the same thing we did with Joe Alexander, the same thing we did with Da’Sean on the goaltend that wasn’t called, the goaltend against Georgetown. How’s that? Same setup.
It’s true. The wrinkle is the Nichols-to-Alexander past to set up the Alexander-to-Nichols inbound, and there’s no immediate screen to set up the guard on the go. After that, the screen later in the play is there and the man in the corner is there. Georgetown survived here despite collapsing to control the guard and thus springing Da’Sean Butler from the corner to the basket and then getting … well, Patrick Ewing. Jr., recovered to make an incredibly agile and alert play. Let’s say that.
Monday’s conclusion was similar.
Huggins: I’m thinking about how are we going to get the ball to the guy we want to have the ball? How are we going to get him on the run at the goal? How do I hold their bigs from being able to block the shot? We were going to get it at the rim. But who takes it out of bounds? Who’s going to make a pass to get us turned up toward the goal?
The key Monday was the screen Chase Connor made before the inbound. Staten on was faking a deep route up the right side. Connor then stood up Mason with a solid screen and Staten ran a route to the left that let him catch a crisp pass from Gary Browne on the go. Jevon Carter was in the middle of the court deeper down the floor and Jon Holton was playing the role of Butler in the far left corner.
This is where things get fuzzy. We’re not sure what went wrong, but it sounded like something went wrong.
Huggins: We had some subs I didn’t know were going to happen, quite frankly, so I had to make do.
Logically, you might think Holton would be involved in the mistake here. He’s not a 3-point shooter, especially from that corner. It might then seem he’s misplaced and someone the defense can pay less attention to. Not so. He was supposed to be in the game. Holton was the biggest available body because Devin Williams fouled out and Elijah Macon had an off night. He would draw the biggest Kansas player. Connor, a specialized shooter who defenders can’t leave for a final shot, was also supposed to be in the game. They each had a purpose on the play, and they played their parts perfectly.
Huggins: We always put Chase in at the end because he holds people — they won’t come off Chase. I didn’t have another big. I had to have a big in that corner to hold that guy in the corner so we could get Wanny turned loose at the rim.
Staten: Huggs drew the play up and told me what to look for when I’m coming down the court. He put everybody in place so if they helped we’d have an open shot somewhere. But everyone stayed home, and that gave me a shot. It was a great play he drew up.
Staten’s vision is understandably limited on the play. What he didn’t notice was the screen, the pass and the catch made it obvious he had time and space to go at the rim. Kansas defenders converged and Carter improvised — and very nearly wiped Mason out of the play. Watch it. Carter steps aside and almost catches Mason. Who knows what happens or what is called if that collision occurs.
Carter: Chase was supposed to set a screen to get Juwan open and then Juwan was supposed to come around that screen and I was supposed to set a screen for him. But everyone zoned in on him as he was coming my way. I popped back to get open.
Didn’t matter. Mason was still in the play and still intent on staying in front of Staten. Oubre was in the middle of the floor and in pretty good position to be a factor. Traylor was trailing the play. Selden was far away on Connor on the right side. Ellis was stuck on Holton on the left.
Holton: I’ve been hitting shots in practice, and Huggs is trying to give me confidence to stand out there, get my feet set and have confidence to shoot the ball. It’s all a mind thing.
Holton’s funny, because there’s no way he was shooting a 3 there, and Ellis probably knew that. Ellis had to keep Holton in the corner because he didn’t want to do what Ewing did and step in to create a lane for Holton and a passing window for Staten.
Holton: If he helped, I was supposed to cut to the basket for an alley oop.
Staten: My job job was to drive the ball down and get down there as fast as I could. I was supposed to drive at Jon’s man, and if he helped, Jon was supposed to go to the rim for a lob.
Ellis stayed put for too long, and Mason recovered too hard.
Staten said: That’s the play that we wanted, that’s the man I was reading. If he stepped up, Jon was going to have a wide-open shot. He didn’t step up, and Frank Mason overplayed me.
Staten sensed Mason was about to overrun his drive, and he saw Ellis was too far away to recover. He decided to spin right.
Staten: I knew I’d have Chase to the right side when I spun, but I didn’t see anything but the rim, so I went for the layup.
Oubre, who was once in a good place to make a play, had stopped around the foul line, and that gave Staten more room. Selden saw the spin and hurried over from the right side, which left Connor open in his corner. No way Staten passes that, though.
He dispatched Mason to the left, and Mason ended up impeding Ellis’ progress into the play, and then stepped into the lane and toward the basket before finishing with his off hand. That was was a necessity because Oubre awoke and, more alarmingly, Traylor was suddenly back in the play. A right-handed shot doesn’t survive that moment.
Huggins: He made the same move in the Oklahoma State game, but it just didn’t go in a year ago, if you remember.
Traylor picked up the ball and Ellis looked toward his basket.
Huggins: I hope somebody’s back.
Nope. Ellis didn’t see anybody in white. He darted from the middle of the paint toward mid-court. Holton jumped with both arms up, but Traylor’s pass was perfect.
Holton: That was a great play. I’m just thinking, ‘Oh, my God.’
Carter: Crazy. Just crazy. I didn’t know what to think.
Staten and Carter spotted Ellis early and were a step behind when the pass fell into Ellis’ path … at the free throw line.
Carter: My legs started cramping again, so it took a while for me to turn around and run. I almost fell my legs were so tight. Fortunately he missed the layup. I wound up with the rebound.
Staten really complicated the play by cutting in front of Ellis, which was smarter than going up to try and block the shot. Ellis couldn’t have known he had more time, or that he had two guards swiping at his heels, but WVU’s final bit of pressure defense was the final piece of the puzzle.
Staten: I did get a piece of the ball. I thought I got more than I did. Then I went down and I turned around and saw the ball come off the rim, which was a big sigh of relief.