By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The zero next to Truck Bryant’s name stood out like an obscene gesture during a Super Bowl halftime show.
Some even said he was M.I.A. as West Virginia University lost a heartbreaker, if not a season-breaker, to Notre Dame, 55-51.
Indeed, the zero points certainly were not what Bryant had in mind as dessert for the 32-point game he put together at Providence, but it is almost unfair to simply paint him as the villain fans were trying to when they booed him at the game’s end.
True, any hope of winning the game went down in the final minutes when Bryant tried to redeem himself, an unadvised pass into the post to Deniz Kilicli being pilfered by Jerian Grant, who turned into a three-point basket.
And then, moments later, Bryant had cruised down the floor and gotten to the basket for his first shot of the second half, only to miss a makeable, although not uncontested layup.
Again, Notre Dame went back down the floor and finished with Scott Martin hitting yet a third-straight 3-point shot to cap an 11-0 run that clinched it.
It is difficult enough to believe that anyone could suffer the pains that Bryant was suffering when it was over, failing for the first time in memory to so much as chat with the local media.
But, gosh dang it, as a football coach from another era might have said, Bryant actually played a good game.
Yes he finished with zero baskets in six attempts, but there were also eight assists to just that one turnover … and if he wasn’t hitting, he wasn’t trying to hit for Notre Dame had opted to smother him early and often.
Bob Huggins, who can be a player’s worst critic when he senses a lack of effort or a lack of good sense, refused to do anything but offer praise toward his intelligent approach and effort.
“Truck tried to win,” Huggins said. “He wasn’t hitting his shots, and he didn’t force things. Yes, his one turnover was huge, but I don’t fault him. He tried to do what we needed to win. He was the one who got the ball inside for us.”
Indeed, whatever disease it was that Bryant was afflicted with spread to the entire team in the first half as they scored just 16 points – which is not even a good night for Kevin Jones – shooting just 24.1 percent, hitting 1 of 11 3s.
See, Huggins had blame for some of the other people … you better believe he did. Not Kilicli, who fought his fanny off while scoring 16 points and grabbing five rebounds; and certainly not for Jabarie Hinds, who was high scorer with 17 points and hit 8 of 12 shots.
And everyone felt for Kevin Jones, who had an opportunity to etch his name next to the Logo, Jerry West, and Hot Rod Hundley in the record books had he scored 20 points for the 10th straight game only to finish with 14.
“It is what it is,” Jones said. “I was just glad being named with those guys, Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley, great players. Obviously, losing is more disheartening than anything.”
So who did Huggins blame?
“We’ve got guys who made three or four shots in a week, maybe all year, and they’re jacking up 3s,” Huggins said, not naming any names, but Keaton Miles shot one, and Aaron Brown, who is a good 3-point shooter, missed a 3 badly.
“I don’t know what’s going through their heads,” Huggins said.
Be interesting to know now, for Miles never got back in after the first half, and Brown not only didn’t get back in but when Huggins needed a 3-point shooter he opted for Paul Williamson, the walk-on, instead.
And so it was, Truck Bryant will be viewed with disdain when, in reality, it might be best to look upon him as unfortunate, for in truth it was Notre Dame’s defense that took away his offense far more than any shortcomings he may have had.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.