By Bob Hertzel
West Virginia University couldn’t get out of Columbia, Mo., fast enough Thursday night, but the predicted snow/ice/cold storm had far less to do with it than the storm the Missouri Tigers brewed up for them.
The unbeaten Missouri team, tall, long-armed and athletic, would have been difficult to beat if WVU had played its best game of the season, but it had no trouble with the Mountaineers playing their worst.
Don’t be fooled by the 80-71 final score.
That’s a mirage, a product of WVU heart in playing to the end, which while highly commendable does not make up for dreadful shooting, especially from 3-point range.
The Mountaineers were not intimidated by the crowd, for the combination of the weather and the fact that seemingly half the state had left to watch the Tigers play Auburn in Saturday’s SEC championship football game held it down to 7,292.
In coach Bob Huggins’ mind, this game was not lost out on the court.
“We had a horrible practice yesterday — not bad, horrible,” he said after the game. “We weren’t as prepared as we needed to be.”
It was so bad that Huggins had to spend so much time on things he actually had to leave a lot undone.
“We didn’t get to the last 45 minutes of practice,” he said. “We have a lot of young guys. It’s going to take a long time to understand … and we don’t have a whole lot of time.”
The start was so bad that WVU found itself down 65-40 at its lowest point.
That’s 25 points that they would cut to nine.
If you want to point fingers, you start with Eron Harris, who has been the offensive catalyst for this team.
To give you an idea of how bad it was for him, his basket started the comeback from 65-40 down but it was just his second basket of the game.
Harris would finish with just eight points, held to six shots taken, partially by the Missouri defense and also by Huggins, who sat him for 21 of the 40 minutes, perhaps hoping to deliver a message that will carry over into Tuesday’s even tougher home game against No. 15 Gonzaga.
With Harris not scoring, no one was able to pick up the slack.
Juwan Staten led WVU with 16 points, but it wasn’t a good game for him. Even though he did hit his third 3 of the year, he was 5-of-13 shooting and matched his five assists with five turnovers after having turned the ball over nine times in the season’s first eight games.
If you had to pick a WVU player of the game, it would be Gary Browne, who came off the bench to hit 5 of 10 shots to finish with 14 points, matching the 14 Terry Henderson scored.
The trouble was at halftime West Virginia had 22 points and was only ahead 22-21 … that is, ahead of Mizzou’s Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross combined.
Clarkson, who dominated the game, finished with 25 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals.
It was awful right from the start.
From the moment WVU messed up the very first possession of the game, causing Huggins to send Remi Dibo to the scorer’s table to go in as a replacement, it was obvious this would not be the same as playing Loyola of Maryland.
That was the game, it will recalled, when WVU grabbed of 62 rebounds.
Against Missouri the Mountaineers had 32.
WVU started 0-7 and 1-11 from the field.
The fact is they 26-of-54 after that, which is almost 50 percent, but it didn’t matter. Missouri was able to do whatever it wanted to do and what it wanted to do most was win the game, which it did in style.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.