CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Juwan Staten was supposed to be the sidekick to Eron Harris for what was expected to be another rebuilding year at West Virginia.
Lately it’s been Staten delivering clutch performances to lift the Mountaineers (13-9, 5-4) into the upper tier of the Big 12 standings with a test looming against No. 21 Oklahoma (17-5, 6-3) Wednesday night.
Staten made the go-ahead layup with 3 seconds left in a 66-64 win over Baylor Jan. 28, then scored a career-high 35 points in a win Saturday over Kansas State to earn honors as Big 12 player of the week.
Staten is the Big 12’s second-leading scorer and leader in assists. West Virginia will need his production to get through a tough stretch that includes four straight games against ranked opponents.
“He’s been terrific,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “I think he’s really studied film. He’s trying to learn the game. It has a lot to do with his decision making. He’s just gotten so much better with his decision making – of when to go, when not to go, getting the ball to other guys. And he’s worked really, really hard on just shooting. When he makes that 17-18 foot jumper, he’s hard to guard.”
Besides becoming a blossoming star, Staten has been a workhorse. He’s averaging 37 minutes per game, three minutes more than anyone else in the league.
At 18 points per game, he’s slightly behind Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim for the conference scoring lead. He’s also third in field-goal percentage (53), sixth in steals (1.3) and second on the team in rebounding (5.8), with most of those coming after opponents’ missed shots.
“If I have to play 40 minutes, if I have to try to create every play, whatever it takes,” Staten said. “I’m just trying to win. Whatever the coaches ask me to do is what I’m going to go out there and do.”
Staten has come a long way since January 2013, when he emerged from Huggins’ doghouse after being benched for three consecutive halves. West Virginia finished 13-19, the worst record in Huggins’ 31 seasons as head coach.
Since then, Staten, whose scoring average has jumped from 7.6 points a year ago, has shown growth in maturity to go along with improvements in his game.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Huggins said. “I think everybody had a year they’d like to forget a year ago. I think Juwan is one of those guys. He’s grown up a great deal.”
Staten said last year he played “with a lot on my mind, just second guessing myself a lot. Not really focusing on me, just a lot about what people thought about me or what they were saying about me instead of just going out there and like my dad says, `Throw hell to the wind, play basketball.”’
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger has noticed.
“Staten is so tough in pushing the transition and keeping the pressure on (opponents) all the time,” Kruger said. “On tapes I’ve watched of recent games, they’re playing very good basketball.”
The Big 12 has plenty of teams with multiple big scoring threats, among them Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash, Iowa State’s Ejim, Deandre Kane and Georges Niang, and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Perry Ellis.
Staten and Harris can be added to that list.
Harris, considered more of an outside scoring threat than Staten, is tied for fourth in the Big 12 at 17 points per game, although his scoring average has dipped since conference play began. He led the Mountaineers in scoring last year at 9.8 per game.
Harris and Staten have only a combined three games scoring below double figures this season.
“We’re coming off a two-game winning streak, feeling good about ourselves. Making shots. Playing together as a team,” Staten said. “So our confidence is great.”
After Oklahoma, West Virginia plays at No. 8 Kansas, at home against No. 16 Iowa State and at No. 15 Texas.