The Times West Virginian

January 26, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Mountaineers lay an egg on Broadway

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia, inspired by a victory over Cincinnati and playing in Madison Square Garden, came out on fire and buried St. John’s in Big Ea ...

Whoa! Cut! Wait a minute!

That was what was supposed to happen. In the world we’d all like to live in, that’s the way it was supposed to be. You come to New York City, you take in the Guggenheim Museum, lunch at the Carnegie Deli, maybe see a matinee on Broadway and then go out and win a basketball game in Madison Square Garden.

Only it didn’t happen. Not even close. The Mountaineers played the way they thought St. John’s would play, just laid down and let the Red Storm win, 78-62. They never once led in the game.

It was so bad, as Bob Huggins pointed out after the game, that at one point one of the game officials came jogging by him on the bench, turned and said, “Do you have anyone who wants to play?”

“No. 5,” said Huggins, referring to Kevin Jones, who had his nightly double-double with 26 points and 14 rebounds.

Later, after the game, Huggins would make an admission.

“That referee was right.”

How do you figure his team would come up with such an uninspired performance, one in which they never led against a team that had lost four straight games, that was without its coach and that plays only seven players, four of them freshmen?

“Sometimes,” said Huggins, “success is harder to handle than failure.”

It is as simple as that, really, and not really surprising. See, top level college athletics is a strange animal, one in which ability may not even be the key to victory.

“We somehow got an inflated value of our self-worth,” Huggins said.

Sometimes, when your head has a larger circumference than the basketball, you have a problem in finding hats and winning basketball games, and that victory over Cincinnati and a recent hot streak may well have done that to the Mountaineers.

It isn’t that they lost their will to win.

As Bobby Knight once said, and Huggins was to repeat on this occasion, “Everyone has the will to win. Few people have the will to prepare to win.”

And along that line, Huggins felt his team’s two practices leading into this game were terrible.

“We went 10 minutes in one practice and got one shot off, one shot in 10 minutes,” he said.

It carried over into the game, too, as a freshman who plays like an NBA star, Moe Harkless, intimidated them with 23 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. D’Angelo Harrison added 19 to make matters more difficult and then there was God’sgift Achiuwa and Sir’Dominic Pointer, whose names alone can cause a team to lose sight of where it is and what it is supposed to do.

The entire affair left Huggins absolutely perplexed. Here’s a coach with more than 700 victories who admitted after the game, “I didn’t know what to do.”

What could he do? Truck Bryant was still in a shooting slump, following up a 2-for-16

performance against Cincinnati with a 3-for-13 one against St. John’s, which is not unusual, for he always seems to have problems returning home and playing in Madison Square Garden.

Then there were freshman guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne, who seemed to finally have arrived this past week, who were completely lost, Browne not scoring and missing all four free throws, and Hinds making only 3 of 12 shots, the two guards tossing in five turnovers for good measure.

Huggins was clearly shaken by it all.

“I told them that I have to come out here (to his radio show) and apologize to the people of this great state. They do go to work every day. They don’t want to go into the mines,” he said.

They do it and they put in a hard day, which he inferred his players had failed to do.

“I told them, you guys want to tell us how good you are. Where would you be without Kevin Jones? Where would you be in this season?” Huggins said.

He didn’t wait for an answer.

Now everything has changed for the Mountaineers. They seemed to be cruising toward a big season, exceeding expectations. But now they have lost to a team with an RPI of 186, they have three Big East losses and are looking at going to Syracuse to play what may be the best team in the league.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.