By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Ten days earlier, after West Virginia University went to Rutgers and beat them, 85-64, on their home court, the Scarlet Knights’ coach Mike Rice said the Mountaineers had “punched us in the mouth and they punched us in the gut and then they took the victory and walked out of the RAC. They literally just abused and beat up a young-minded and weak team.”
Well, it happened again, only worse, on Saturday afternoon as the Mountaineers once more abused and beat up Rutgers, 84-60, this time in a game in which Rice said his team was “bullied.”
“They just seem to, for lack of a better word, bully us,” Rice said as his team’s two-game winning streak was left broken into pieces on the Coliseum floor. “They take us out of our offense. Guys are trying to run away from West Virginia players instead of executing. They are just tougher than us.”
This time the Mountaineers, especially their powerful Turkish center, Deniz Kilicli, enjoyed the way they pounded the Scarlet Knights.
Kilicli had heard that Rice, after the embarrassment that was heaped upon his team in New Jersey, had called for some demanding practices that included working with punching bags.
“The punching bags didn’t work for them. Maybe they should get out the heavy bags,” he said. “This time they were worse.
“Their coach said we were beating our chests and laughing at them. We never do that. I think that’s really disrespectful to us. I think beating them by 30 should show them. They should put the punching bags back. It’s not working.”
The truth is that Rutgers certainly is not ready for the physical brand of basketball that WVU plays under Bob Huggins, but even Huggins had to laugh when he was told that Rice used the term “bullied” in describing the way his Mountaineers handled them.
“We’ve got seven freshmen. Who are we bullying? Let’s be honest. Did you see Keaton Miles bully anybody?” Huggins began, referring to a long and lean freshman forward. “Deniz (Kilicli) got in foul trouble and he’s our biggest, strongest guy. K.J. (Kevin Jones) is, in my opinion, the best player in the league. If he bullied them, he’s bullied a lot of people. I don’t see where we bully anybody.”
And Huggins, way back in his Cincinnati days when he had players like Danny Fortson and Kenyon Martin, had a pretty good idea of how to bully teams.
Jones is bullying the Big East this year, that is for certain. He leads in scoring 20.1 and leads in rebounding at 11.6 per game, and was even better than that in this game.
Jones had another double-double against Rutgers, his 12th in 18 games, scoring 24 points with 14 rebounds.
But Jones was not alone. Kilicli, despite playing only 22 minutes, counterpunched for 14 points and four rebounds and a couple of assists and a steal while senior guard Truck Bryant had 18 points.
“Kevin Jones and Truck were men among boys for the second time. It shows you if we don’t play with tremendous toughness and togetherness we’re not a very good team,” Rice said.
But this was as much about what Rutgers didn’t do, namely play defense, as what West Virginia did do.
“Pathetic ... an absolutely pathetic defensive performance,” Rice said. “They were just hugging their men. It looked like it was the first time they met each other. A young team that couldn’t get out of its own way this afternoon.”
Certainly there was reason for Rutgers to think it could come into West Virginia and turn around the events that occurred in New Jersey. The Big East has been so crazy that anything could happen at any time ... like Rutgers beating Pittsburgh at the Petersen Event Center.
Although the way things are working out for the defending Big East champions, that may not really be an upset as Pitt dropped its fifth straight Big East game to go to 0-5, losing at Marquette on Saturday.
The team directly above Pittsburgh is a name associated with the elite in the Big East, Villanova, which lost to Cincinnati and now stands at 1-5 in the conference.
And with it all, West Virginia is just rolling along at 4-2 in America’s toughest basketball conference as Huggins continues to talk about them as if they were at the bottom of the league, stressing their youth, their inexperience, their inability to play consistently.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.