By Mickey Furfari
Times West Virginian
The West Virginia University men’s basketball team let one slip away in Sunday’s 73-70 upset loss to Purdue at the WVU Coliseum.
It certainly was a game the Mountaineers (7-5) could have won against the Boilermakers (10-3). In fact, WVU repeatedly was a 6-point favorite on its home court.
But Coach Bob Huggins’ hard-working young team fell just short in the winnable contest.
So this heartbreaking defeat had to be not only difficult for the coaches and players, but also for those fans in the “Family Day” crowd of 10,019 on a rainy, warm afternoon.
This very young WVU squad still lacks continuity and consistency as the newcomers continue to adjust with the few, more experienced veterans.
There isn’t a single senior on this year’s roster, which includes only eight scholarship players and a handful of walk-ons.
Two juniors, two sophomores and one freshman formed the starting lineup. Three freshmen and two juniors came off the bench and saw limited action in reserve roles Sunday.
Huggins said one problem has been that certain individuals perform well during one half but not in the other. Obviously, this can hurt the team, if it’s late in the second half when a game is on the line.
However, you may recall the situation was just the reverse in the Capital Classic against Marshall in Charleston on Dec. 14.
The Mountaineers, behind nearly all but the final four minutes, suddenly caught fire and wound up winning that contest 74-64.
WVU couldn’t quite come up with a similar late rally against Purdue, though the Boilermakers now lead the series by 7-1.
Rebounding, or a shortage there of, continues to plague the Mountaineers. They gave up 14 offensive boards to Purdue, and were out-rebounded by 45-38 overall.
Earlier this season WVU was also out-rebounded by Mount St. Mary’s, Duquesne, Old Dominion, Wisconsin, Missouri and Gonzaga.
Huggins is hopeful that Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon become eligible soon to play. “That would help (rebounding) a bunch,” he stressed.
Holton still has not graduated from Palm Beach Junior College (Fla.) and is formerly a tall player at the University of Rhode Island. Macon is a 6-foot-9, 240-pound freshman forward.
Both have been practicing with WVU but neither has been cleared by the NCAA.
Poor goaling was even more of a problem for West Virginia on Sunday. The team, which shot 50 percent or more in five earlier games, made only 24 of 65 shots from the field on Sunday, a setback for a pitiful 36.9 percent.
Purdue wasn’t much sharper at 25 of 60 for 41.7 percent.
The Mountaineers also probably hit a season’s low from 3-point range (3 of 18 for 16.7 percent). Could this be an all-time school record?
Keep the faith, though. Coach Huggins vows that “We’ll get better. We’ll be good.”
The Mountaineers do not play again until 3 p.m. Sunday when they meet William & Mary on a neutral court at the Charleston Civic Center.