Unlikely Heroes

West Virginia sorely needed a marquee nonconference win. It got one on Saturday, knocking off a previously unbeaten Virginia Tech team thanks largely to an unlikely cast of heroes.

Give anyone a few random snippets from the postgame box score and it would have been tough to imagine the Mountaineers would have pulled out a 68-67 win in front of a boisterous Coliseum crowd of 11,631.

Would you have guessed WVU could have won had you known Deniz Kilicli would only score five points? Only six from Juwan Staten (on 1-of-6 shooting from the field)? A 1-of-10 shooting performance from Gary Browne? Shooting only 55.6 percent from the free throw line (10-of-18)?

Any one of those ingredients would have seemed likely to guarantee a Mountaineer loss. But instead, it was West Virginia's players pumping their fists and celebrating as students sang "Take Me Home, Country Roads" in full throat.

The reason? Contributions from several players few could have seen coming.

It starts, of course, with Kevin Noreen. The reserve forward has been better known as a "glue guy" who does a lot of the ugly things that don't show up in box scores -- from blocking out to making the right pass to taking a charge.

No one could ignore his performance on Saturday, though. He finished with a double-double: 14 points and 12 rebounds. He stunned most in attendance by drilling two 3-pointers. Seven of his 12 boards came on the offensive end, helping WVU to a 18-10 edge in second-chance points.

"If there are kids out there that want to be a basketball player, I think he is a great role model," coach Bob Huggins said. "He doesn't play above the rim. He can't rebound above the rim. But he has to shoot 1,000 shots a day.

"Over the years, I've had some great guys. I mean absolutely wonderful and hard-working guys. I don't know that I've had anyone put more time in than what Kevin Noreen puts in."

But Noreen wasn't alone. Freshman Eron Harris had a breakout performance as well, making the most of his 17 minutes with 10 points, five boards, a pair of assists and no turnovers.

Center Aaric Murray showed a skill-set more versatile than most had previously imagined, registering 15 points and seven boards -- including another pair of 3-pointers.

All told, West Virginia (which came into the game shooting only 23 percent from 3-point range) drilled 10 of 24 tries from beyond the arc. The Mountaineers, for comparison's sake, had only made 20 3-pointers in their first six games.

"Those guys shot the ball with confidence and made shots they haven't been making all year," Hokies head coach James Johnson said. "They stepped up and made the shots."

Add those together with signs that this team is finally beginning to embrace Huggins' style of play, and there is reason for optimism as WVU continues a tough nonconference stretch with games against Duquesne and Michigan next week.

West Virginia held the Hokies -- who came in as the nation's No. 3 scoring team with 86.1 points per game -- to 67. Virginia Tech shot only 41.5 percent from the field. The Mountaineers won the battle on the boards 49-38.

It was a performance that was vintage Huggins. It showed Wednesday's win against Marshall was no fluke. If this team can make a few jump shots and continue to defend and rebound, it has a chance to be one of the Big 12's best -- despite what was an improbably cold start to the season.

Maybe there is more to this group of Mountaineers than they had shown previously after all.


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