By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia will not soon forget the week to remember that has just come to a close.
In mid-week, the football team broke bowl records and Clemson hearts in a 70-33 Orange Bowl victory, and then on Saturday Bob Huggins’ basketball team beat the nation’s No. 9 team, Georgetown, ending an 11-game Georgetown winning streak, 74-62, before 10,526 Coliseum zanies.
“They’ll never outscore us,” Huggins cracked after the game.
He was referring to Dana Holgorsen’s football team, but he might as well have been talking about coach John Thompson III’s Hoya basketball team that has now dropped its last five games to Huggins and the Mountaineers.
This was another of those games where seniors Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant played inspired ball.
Jones, coming into the game with a bad ankle and left bleeding early on, having to change his familiar No. 5 uniform shirt for a No. 42 shirt, simply had yet another double-double, this his 11th of the season.
He scored 22 points on 8 of 12 shooting from the field, one a simply spectacular shot, while dragging down 16 rebounds. He tossed in an assist and two blocked shots just for good measure.
“The fans out there need to enjoy him because we haven’t had a guy get those kind of numbers in a long, long time ... and playing against a really, really good schedule,” Huggins said of Jones. “He’s not getting those numbers against the Little Sisters of the Poor. His maturation as a player has just been remarkable to watch.”
There is no secret to Jones’ success.
“He has a great pair of hands,” Huggins said, “and he does what you ask him to do. He listens. Some of these guys are, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ but they don’t hear what you say.”
So, too, has Bryant’s, the guard from Brooklyn who scored 25 in this one after a slow start. Bryant, who is averaging 18.4 points a game, second only to Jones’ 19.8 on the season, has scored 34, 29 and 25 in three of his past four games.
Only in the Seton Hall loss did he slip, scoring 11.
Not only that but Bryant, once a defensive liability, has developed into the Mountaineer stopper, the man who takes the opposition’s best guard eyeball-to-eyeball. In this game it was Jason Clark, as slick a guard as there is in the conference, and held him to 10 points on 5-of-12 shooting, 0-for-4 from 3-point range.
For Huggins, it was his 20th victory against Top 25 opponents since coming to West Virginia. Asked how that could be, he joked, “It’s all coaching.”
While there is something to that, Huggins noted that playing in the Big East you get more than your share of opportunities. In fact, his record against Top 25 teams is 20-28. Against Top 10 teams he is 7-15 but has split his past 10 games against Top 10 opponents.
“In some leagues you don’t get that many opportunities,” he noted. “I see leagues where you get maybe one chance a year.”
To win nearly half your games against the nation’s best says something about the coaching and the talent, both of which Huggins has in excess. It is as Kevin Jones put it following this victory over Georgetown.
“We’ve been up and down sometimes and we’ve got to get more consistent, but when we play like this, I think we’re very tough to beat,” Jones said. “I think we can beat anybody in the country if we give the same amount of effort and play like this. We’re to the point now where we’ve got to keep moving forward and getting better.”
The thing about this Georgetown team is it had only one loss coming into the game, that to Kansas by four points in Maui.
Seven of Huggins’ victories in the past three-plus seasons have come against Top 10 teams.
Certainly, there has been talent like Joe Mazzulla, Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and company, but if you look at them under Huggins they all progressed over the years, making strides from good players to great players, just as Jones and Bryant are doing.
But it is something more, things you see with freshmen like Gary Browne and transfer Dominique Rutledge, each making huge strides almost each time they step on the court. Against Georgetown, Browne scored 12 points off the bench, hitting 3 of 4 shots.
And Rutledge is getting more and more playing time and if his stats don’t fill up, what he does do is add a certain energy to the mix.
“This is hard for Dom because Dom didn’t play in high school,” Huggins said. “He took the scenic route in junior college from Kansas to Miami to West Texas, so he doesn’t have the background that some of the other guys have. He gives us a shot of athleticism. He was really into playing today.
“We just need to get him into practicing like he was into playing today, and then we might have something. He would have a little bit better idea of what’s going on.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.