MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Jermaine Haley’s final game at the WVU Coliseum may have been one of his finest.
The senior from Vancouver, Canada did not put up eye-popping stats, nine points, three rebounds and two assists, but he played the exact role the Mountaineers needed.
Just two minutes into the second half, freshman point guard Miles McBride picked up his third foul of the game. This was right after fellow freshman Oscar Tshiebwe also picked up his third foul. Two of WVU’s better free-throw shooters, coach Bob Huggins knew he would need those two on the floor later in the game and subbed them both out.
“It was hard getting Deuce (McBride) out with three, and then Oscar got his third,” Huggins said. “I knew we had to have Oscar down the stretch because he is the only big we have on the floor that is a very good free-throw shooter.”
At this point in the game, Baylor was leading 26-24 and McBride and Tshiebwe had been two of WVU’s most productive offensive players. With both of them out of the game West Virginia was in need of someone to step up offensive or else risk letting the game get away from the.
Huggins first turned to sophomore guard Brandon Knapper to fill in for McBride at point guard. After a couple of ineffective minutes that included a missed three-pointer an a turnover, Huggins pulled Knapper out of the game and instead inserted Haley at the point.
The 6-foot-7 Haley had played some point guard this season but had not been getting consistent minutes at the position. Huggins had faith in his senior, however.
“We needed Deuce in the game, but Jermaine has played point for us,” Huggins siad. “He played point last year so he knows what he is doing. His ball security is actually better than the rest of them.”
Haley said point guard is actually the position that feels most natural to him.
“I just feel the most comfortable when I have the ball at the one,” Haley said. “I haven’t been playing much of it this year, but they try to get me in when they need me to. I would say that’s my natural position, what I’ve been playing since I was young so I feel the most comfortable with the ball and orchestrating everything.”
Haley running the point turned out to be exactly what the Mountaineers needed Saturday afternoon. A few minutes after Haley came in at point guard West Virginia went on a 20-4 run from 13:20 to 5:02 in the second half. In that stretch, Baylor’s only point came on four made free-throws.
“That’s probably the most minutes I’ve ever played, most consistent minutes at the one. I can honestly say I haven’t felt better this entire season other than tonight,” Haley said. “As much as we got back to things defensively, we had good offensive stretches today, which we haven’t had in a while.”
McBride said he felt better about having to come out of the game because he knew Haley was coming in.
“He’s going to make the right play almost every time,” McBride said. “He’s just real smart with the ball and he knows how to play because he’s just been playing college basketball for so long. He’s like a grandpa out there with us. I was frustrated I had to come out, but I knew we were going to be okay with him having the ball.”
The win over Baylor ensures that West Virginia will not have to play on the first day of the Big 12 Tournament next week and provides the team with some momentum heading into their post-season tournaments.