The Times West Virginian

Sports

March 10, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN- Too little, too late in home finale

MORGANTOWN — At halftime, as West Virginia University limped into the locker room trailing Iowa State, 44-20, in its final game of the 2012-13 regular season, there was an internal debate going on as to whether or not to send this column to the sports desk or the obituary desk.

To be honest, the obituary desk seemed far more appropriate at the moment.

West Virginia was on life support, playing so badly that Will Clyburn, with 16 points, was within five points of having outscored the entire Mountaineer team.

The halftime statistics were such that you wondered if WVU was even trying. For example, you would think that a major college team basketball team would not take 13 3-point shots in a half if it was only going to hit one of them, yet that is what WVU did, missing the last 12 of them in succession.

On the other side of the coin, you might think that against a team that lives off the 3-point shot, the Mountaineers might decide to defend them, yet there was Iowa State taking a like 13 3s but hitting 8 of them.

All kinds of thoughts ran through an idle mind at halftime as he thought about what he might compose about what figured to be West Virginia’s 18th loss in 31 games and possibly the worst. Should we use the old line about Huggins being better off if he did his recruiting from the winners of the Kroger Shootout, for at least they can throw the basketball into a shopping cart?

We even looked around the arena to see if senior Deniz Kilicli’s family, who had come in from Turkey to see him play in college for the first time on Senior Day, hadn’t left and caught the first flight back home.

Then, though, the halftime show came on, a couple of quick change artists and who knew it would be symbolic of what was about to take place, for the Mountaineers came out onto the floor a changed team.

Oh, it wasn’t evident at first as the 24-point lead grew to 27 as it continued to rain 3-point baskets.

In days past, this was a WVU team that would absolutely quit under such circumstances, start making plans for a night at the Sports Page or Bent Willey’s or the Back Door downtown.

But strange things began to happen, just as they had in Ames earlier this year when the Mountaineers trailed by 18 with 9:04 remaining only to come back and tie the game before losing on a last second lay-in by Georges Niang.

Well this time it was, of all people, Jabarie Hinds who provided the first inspiration, forgetting about his 24.1 percent season-long 3-point shooting average and canning a pair of 3s back-to-back, each off an assist from Kilicli, then following a spectacular block by Aaric Murray and a jumper by Eron Harris, he drove the lane and hit a layup.

Ten straight points hadn’t exactly put WVU in contention, they were still down 17, but the look was different.

There was a taste of confidence that hadn’t been seen since they faced Marist back in November and that look of anger in Murray’s eyes that he gets far too seldom but that turns him into a tiger when he gets it.

“They were scared to come into his house,” is the way Harris put the timidity that Iowa State started to show as Murray recorded three blocks.

In the second half, WVU scored 54 points. That’s four more points than the Mountaineers scored in the Gonzaga loss, two more than they scored in the Purdue loss and two less than they scored in an embarrassing loss to Duquesne and in the first loss to Kansas.

What’s more, they shot 52.6 percent in that second half and went from 1-13 in 3-point shooting to 9 of 16.

“If we had started the game the way we played the second half, I think we would have beat them by 15,” Kilicli said.

But they didn’t. They never do.

For whatever reason, this is a team that sleepwalks through the first half every time it takes the floor, tries to rally but comes up short.

This time they narrowed it to four points on aggressive defense that led to layups off steals to cut it to 76-72, but that was as much air as there was in the balloon. They had to foul down the stretch and Iowa State made enough of the free throws to cinch it.

Enough happened, though, for the column to wind up on the sports page, but don’t be surprised if the funeral isn’t held the first time they play in the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City next week.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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