It has been lost in the glow of a Big East championship, lost in the heroics Da’Sean Butler has brought over and over and over.
Somehow, though, it was not lost on Butler and not lost on Coach Bob Huggins, this strange phenomena that has occurred this year.
It seems as heroic as the Mountaineers have been, so, too have been their opponents.
It was Michael Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail who brought it to the forefront during Wednesday’s interviews before the West Virginia Mountaineers headed for Buffalo and a first-round meeting with Morgan State in the NCAA Tournament.
He had gone back through the season and discovered that in the final seconds of games when opponents needed to hit a shot, they did so with such great regularity that he estimated it at 90 percent, although one suspects it only seemed like that.
In some ways it was an extension of the Mountaineers’ strangest shortcoming of the season. The team’s greatest shortcoming has been its own inability to make shots, their field goal percentage of 43.4 percent ranking 12th in the 16-team conference.
The strangest is that they have not stopped other teams from making shots. While they have allowed only 63.8 points a game, which ranks second in the conference behind Pitt, they give up 42.4 percent of field goals tried, which is eighth in the conference.
Scoring against WVU is tough, making baskets not so tough … and that geometrically multiplies into the final seconds of games.
It almost doesn’t matter who it is. Pitt needs a basket to win, Ashton Gibbs drops one in from left field. Seton Hall needs a basket to tie in the closing seconds and hits one from 30 feet. Cincinnati needs a 3-point basket to tie in the Big East Tournament, Lance Stephenson drops one in. And in the next game Notre Dame’s Ben Hansbro brings the team back with consecutive late 3s.
That is the same Lance Stephenson who was shooting 20 percent from 3-point range and who had Da’Sean Butler all over him.
“OK, Hansbro hits one in the Big East Tournament, he’s a good shooter,” Butler said. “But Lance Stephenson is shooting 20 percent and I’ve got a hand in his face. He hits it.”
Butler shook his head in disbelief.
Make no doubt that Bob Huggins hasn’t missed what’s going on, clouded by his own team’s ability to score key baskets late in games.
Oh, he’s seen some things go his way, beginning with Scottie Reynolds somehow missing an open 3 in the final second of WVU’s home victory over Villanova, a victory that propelled them to the Big East championship but was that close to being a loss.
The problem is that opponents have been making 30 percent shots at a much higher rate at pressure times, such Gibbs’ bomb in Pitt to send the game into overtime. WVU would lose, 98-95, in three overtimes.
“Gibbs could have missed,” Huggins said.
Not this year.
It was just crazy the way people made baskets against the Mountaineers.
“Louisville comes in and shoots lights out,” Huggins said, referring to a game the Mountaineers won, 77-74, although Louisville shot 51.9 percent, 47.4 percent from three.
“Then Cincinnati comes in and shot lights out,” Huggins continued.
A notoriously bad shooting team, Cincinnati hit seven of 10 3-point shots in the first half of a 74-68 loss to the Mountaineers.
Rest assured, Huggins has put his team through some hard practices working on stopping shooters, although it hasn’t paid dividends yet.
But this is a new season, this the post-season, a time when everything starts over again and if WVU wants to advance deeply into the tournament, it is going to have to turn the lights out on the shooters.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.