MORGANTOWN - A pair of career-best performances couldn’t have come at a better time for Juwan Staten and Eron Harris.
It wasn’t just about the immediate ramifications, though those were important.
Harris’ 33 points and Staten’s 28 points accounted for more than 63 percent of the West Virginia University men’s basketball team’s scoring in a 96-83 win over Duquesne on Sunday.
Those feats also helped the guard duo to rebound from their struggles in last Tuesday’s loss in Blacksburg, Va. to Virginia Tech as well as put them at forefront of an inexperienced group of Mountaineers as they head into Thursday’s game at the Coliseum against Georgia Southern (7 p.m., Root Sports).
Both the junior Staten and sophomore Harris had games they’d likely rather forget versus the Hokies. The two combined to shoot 7 for 29 in an 87-82 loss.
Neither player had problems finding the basket against the Dukes.
Staten made seven of 11 shots from the floor - and made 14 of 19 free throws while the rest of the Mountaineers struggled from the line - and recorded nine assists against just one turnover.
Staten, in his second season on the floor for WVU after transferring from Dayton in June 2011 and sitting out a season, said he’s finally gotten a good grasp on what WVU Coach Bob Huggins needs from him on the floor.
“Coach Huggs has given me a lot of responsibility and a lot of freedom,” Staten said. “I just want to go out there and play my game, and take advantage of every opportunity.”
Staten was effective in driving to the hoop against the Dukes. Four of his seven baskets were layups. Duquesne Coach Jim Ferry said that, while Harris wasn’t the top scorer, he was the biggest reason the Dukes left Morgantown with their ninth loss in 10 tries against WVU (2-1).
“The biggest key to this game was Juwan Staten,” Ferry said. “I know Harris scored all those points as well, but we just couldn’t keep that kid in front of us. He did a tremendous job. We tried multiple things. We tried zone, we trapping him, we tried stepping off and playing him in the paint and he just dominated this basketball game.”
Staten would like to maintain an identity as a well-rounded player and a point guard who can hurt opponents with more than his passing.
“I would say, yeah, I have to score a little bit more,” Staten said. “I feel like, if I’m just a facilitator, they’ll get used to that and guard the wings. But if I keep it even and score just as much as I’m facilitating, then they’ll have to play us honest.”
Harris, an all-Big 12 honorable mention as a freshman, showed no loss of confidence in his scoring abilities, even after a 4-for-17 day against the Hokies where he made just one of three 3-pointers. Against Duquesne, he made 12 of 19 from the floor, including six of eight from 3-point range. And he accounted for half the points WVU scored in a 16-2 run late in the game that ended any hopes of a Dukes rally.
“I came out with the mindset that I was going to attack these guys,” Harris said. “I felt I had a mismatch with whoever was guarding me, because they were all smaller than me. I wanted to help my team that way, and I didn’t want to force it. I don’t think I forced anything.”
Huggins said both Staten and Harris have, in their own ways, set examples for how to approach this season.
“Juwan has been terrific,” Huggins said. “He listens. He’s trying to do the right things. He’s trying to run our team and be an example for the younger guys.
“Eron made some shots,” he continued. “Eron gets shots. Eron could have easily had 35 points in Blacksburg if he’d have made some layups. He can score the ball.”
The Mountaineers could use the leadership, Huggins said. In his mind, it’s up to the small crew of returning players to help the fleet of newcomers what Huggins’ expectations are. The coach hasn’t exactly been enthralled so far. After Sunday’s game, he asked how many players had read through the scouting report and watched the scouting video. He said only the five returning players raised their hands for both.
If West Virginia wants to successfully navigate a tough Big 12 schedule - four conference foes are in this week’s Associated Press top 25 - more hands than five have to shoot up when Huggins asks that question. Huggins feels that Harris and Staten can get the Mountaineers moving in that direction. And until the newcomers get there, the duo can spark the team with its synergy with each other.
“They’ve got an idea of what I want,” Huggins said of Harris and Staten. “They’ve got an idea of how to get opportunities out of the offense. They understand the offense so much better. They are more on the same page than what they were before.”