By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Each day with West Virginia University’s young basketball team there is a new lesson to be learned, and one of the biggest of the lessons is about to come up — learning how to get over “The Hump.”
The Mountaineers head for the road this week, playing Mississippi State at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss., an arena affectionately known as “The Hump.”
The 9 p.m. game on Saturday is the first true road test of the season, and it figures to be an eye-opener to a team that carries seven freshmen on its roster.
Senior forward Kevin Jones, who with the team’s other senior, Truck Bryant, has inherited the mantle of leadership, knows it is the veteran players to get the youngsters through the experience.
“It’s our first away game, and we’ll see some competition, so we’ll see what we’re made of,” Jones said after the Mountaineers dismantled Akron. “Me, Truck and Turk (Deniz Kilicli), we’re the veterans. We’ve been through it, so we have to go out and lead them in this hostile environment until they get it.”
It is commonly known that life on the road in college basketball is difficult, but it is also one of the realities of life that you must win some road games if you are to be a contender in your conference and an NCAA Tournament team.
“If we’re afraid to go play, then we’re not going to be very good,” Huggins said. “For a long time we won more games on the road than we did at home. Of course, we played more games on the road. That’s never been an issue.”
Indeed, WVU would, but that is because they played a lot of neutral-site games, even a game or two each year in Charleston. For example, the next road game after Mississippi State is against Kansas State, but it is in Wichita, not Manhattan, which takes some of the edge away.
Some, but not much, for you may not find anyone rooting for WVU there sitting anywhere but on the Mountaineer bench or right behind it.
The freshmen certainly have played road games before, in high school, in AAU ball, but this is big-time different.
“The road is kind of unforgiving at times,” Jones explained. “The call you might get at home you might not get on the road. When your shots are not falling, the crowd is against you. You don’t have any support on the road. We have to come in as a team and be strong on the road.”
“Going on the road is a big thing,” Bryant said. “It’s a lot different going on the road as a freshman. It’s their first away game in college. You tell them to play their game and stick with it.”
What happens really is that everything that goes wrong is exaggerated.
You are booed, not cheered. The officials’ striped shirts seem to be in the other team’s colors. The pep band is playing a fight song you don’t know. The shooting background is different. You know after the game instead of going for a beer and pizza with your girlfriend, or whatever it is you do, you are heading for a charter airplane flight home.
You are out of your element, and without any of the security blankets that you rely on in a home game; you are on your own.
Think of it this way. When you are playing at home, every advantage the home crowd and setting gives you is a disadvantage on the road.
It’s a lesson you have to learn, and learn quickly.
Ask Truck Bryant when he learned it.
“I don’t know; it was so long ago,” he says, smiling at his new senior citizen status in college basketball.
All of this said, that doesn’t mean you can’t win on the road.
In his fifth year at WVU, Huggins has a 51-10 home record, which is to be expected, but has a 54-33 record away from the Coliseum, including games on neutral courts and in tournament play.
In Starkville, Humphrey Coliseum awaits WVU. It is in its 37th year of operation. The Bulldogs are 370-141 all-time in the building and 164-43 under long-time coach Rick Stansbury.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.