By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It started with passion and ended with passion.
In between West Virginia played again like it cared not a bit about whether it won or lost.
The result was the Mountaineers lost their sixth straight game and seventh in eight games, 83-74, to Iowa State before a crowd announced at 9,413 fans, many of whom were long gone by the time the game ended and quite a few of whom were never there.
The Senior Day loss was WVU’s sixth straight, their longest losing streak since they lost nine in a row in Gale Catlett’s final season, 2002, and left them with a 13-18 record, 6-12 in the Big 12. That will put them against Texas Tech at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the conference tournament in Kansas City.
If the Mountaineers win they would play No. 1 seed Kansas, which is probably not what they were wishing for.
The early passion came when Deniz Kilicli walked down the carpet with his family, who had come all the way from Turkey to see him play in college for the first time after seldom having missed a game at home.
The crowd’s welcome was long and loud and as they walked down the carpet for the final time, not only was Kilicli waving to them but so was his white-haired, goateed father.
Kilicli met Huggins at the end of the carpet and the two put their arms around each other. This was more than a hug. It was an embrace, a warm, caring embrace.
And a silent one.
“I couldn’t say anything,” Kilicli allowed. “He couldn’t either. It was such a good thing, such a sad thing, the last time to be on the carpet. I was overwhelmed.”
So were the Mountaineers when play started.
Iowa State, which leads the nation in 3-point field goals, was throwing in 3s like were layups, one after another.
By halftime they had hit 8 of 13 of them and led 44-20 over WVU.
The one thing WVU had to talk about was the most memorable move of Kilicli’s career, an inside spin to the right, which is not the way he often goes and then a thunderous dunk that shook the Coliseum.
“That wasn’t something I thought about. It just happened,” Kilicli said.
It was the only thing that happened that made any Mountaineer fan cheer, sort of a birthday gift for school president Jim Clements, who was at courtside celebrating with his family.
“We didn’t run any offense in the first half. Deniz is trying to win, but when he goes and stands on the block they know where he’s going to be. We have to move him; in the second half we back screened for him and got shots in space.”
Something magical happened in the second half and WVU roared back, erasing what would become a 24-point lead and narrowing it to 4.
“We played,” Huggins said. “Earlier in the year, we may have not played that hard in the second half after playing that poorly in the first half.”
This team didn’t quit, even though it was about to give up 83 or more points in three straight games and for the seventh time this season, a staggering total considering that in Huggins’ first two years here didn’t allow 80 points in any game, save for one double-overtime matchup with Oklahoma.
And remember, this is the season when very few teams are scoring 80 points.
Guard Jabarie Hinds, who has been a huge disappointment with his offensive production and shooting, got hot and sparked a 10-point run, Aaric Murray came up with a number of big blocks and points, the defense got tough and force a couple of steals that turned into layups that brought the Mountaineers back.
Hinds scored 8 points in that 10-point run and finished with as WVU’s top scorer with 19.
But they could not make up for the first half.
“If we can play two halves like we play the second half we can play with anyone,” said freshman guard Eron Harris, who finished with 11 points, five assists and two steals.
“Our mindset is that we’re down 20 right from the beginning and we have to fight back,” he continued.
In truth, Harris is part to blame for that. His first halves have been troublesome and this was no different, going 2 for 8 in the half, 1 for 5 from 3-point range.
“I’ve got to be a better first-half player,” Harris admitted.
And so it was that the Mountaineers scored a moral victory by fighting back but there is no column for moral victories in the standings.
From here on out it would appear it’s one loss and the season is over for them, unless they can pull off a miracle run and win the Big 12 Tournament.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.