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January 13, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Near-upset ends with ugly finish

MORGANTOWN — It was a play that Bob Huggins had confidence in. Why not, he’d run it before how many times and it had worked to win quite a few games, so now as he looked down his bench and saw the player who had made it work all those times, why not believe it had one more heroic run in it.

His West Virginia Mountaineers were trailing Kansas State, a team ranked as high as No. 18 and possessing a 12-2 record, to say nothing of a one-point lead at the moment, but it was their ball out of bounds.

If he could have, Huggins would have run over and grabbed Da’Sean Butler, told him to get his butt into the locker room, put on a No. 1 uniform and get in there because this play was going to be for him just as it had been during the miracle run to the Final Four.

Perfect timing it would have been, really, for this was a day when at halftime they marched a hundred or so Mountaineer stars of the past onto the court, honoring them from the 1940s to the 2000s, from Lowes Moore to Joe Mazzulla and so many others that we have neither time nor space to name them all.

Butler was one of them, but now he was learning a new trade as a graduate assistant and while he had spent so much practice time working with players about how to handle things in the clutch, about how to win games when the final seconds are clicking down … he could do nothing but cheer this one on.

Huggins had been putting in out of bounds plays all day that had baffled Kansas State. Even Bruce Weber, the opposing coach, would admit to that.

“The kind of picked us apart, after every timeout they ran something to get an easy layup and we didn’t react well,” Weber said.

But now the game was on the line. Gary Browne, who was having one of his finest games of the season, was to get the ball to Jabarie Hinds, who would be Da’Sean Butler in the 2013 version of the play.

Yes, that Jabarie Hinds, the one who had been having so much trouble shooting the basketball all season. In his last start, against Texas, he had made 4 of 18 field goal tries, which should give you an idea of how it’s gone.

But this had been a turnaround game, 6 for 10 from the field, a season-high 15 points.

He was going to be the man and, he would say later, he was sure of one thing and that was “I was going to get a shot off.”

The best laid plans of ….

Browne shot the ball toward him but two events happened almost simultaneously to twist fate.

Kansas State’s Angel Rodriguez got a fingertip on the ball. He didn’t dramatically deflect it, but he did change the course of the game, if not the ball.

At that very moment Hinds also lost his footing for just a second.

“I think I slipped or something and Angel got his hand on the ball,” he said. “The ball hit my hand, I just couldn’t grab it.”

 It rolled into the backcourt as Browne went chasing after it, battling Rodriguez and winning the battle.

Now he had to be Da’Sean Butler and improvise.

They teach you in a situation like that you go to the basket … hard.

The problem was that the clock was ticking and the big folks, of whom Kansas State has many, were there waiting for the WVU guard.

He did what he was supposed to do, just not what he could do.

He tried to sky above the tree tops, hoping for a foul or a miracle.

He got neither, just a shot blocked by Shane Southwell, who had nine seconds earlier made a pair of free throws that had given K-State the lead.

“We just didn’t get the ball in. We wasted like three seconds,” said Eron Harris, who with 21 seconds left had hit yet another clutch baseline jumper to give the Mountaineers a brief lead. “We still got a decent shot up.”

And so it ended, ended in despair, a near upset by a team that seems to be on the rise but has to start to string some wins together before the season gets away from it.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter@bhertzel.

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