The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

January 21, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU men exposed in latest loss

MORGANTOWN — For most of the time that sat between West Virginia University’s classic upset of No. 8 Purdue at the Coliseum and West Virginia’s Classic upset at the hands of Marshall in Charleston, Bob Huggins preached one of his pet theories.

“It’s the game after the game,’’ WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “That’s where people get upset.”

Pulling off an upset is wonderful, but to make it matter it must be sustained.

“If we don’t go down [to Charleston] and win, all that we had done will be for naught,” Huggins said.

Now in the hallway that sits under the stands that ring the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum court where Marshall’s jubilant players just a half hour earlier had pulled off the 75-71 stunner over WVU, Huggins was asked about that statement and if it still rang true.

Speaking out from sad eyes with his voice not far above a whisper, his vocal cords having become frazzled from trying to be heard about the roar of a frenzied sellout crowd as he sent instructions to his players and criticism toward the officials, Huggins did not back down.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Do you think we are going to be in the Top 25 next week? We just gave away everything we worked so hard to get.”

The Mountaineers had crawled up off the carpet after having been rolled over by Marquette in Milwaukee to string together four consecutive victories, one on the road at Georgetown, one over a Purdue team that had been ranked No. 8 in the nation.

Huggins had done a masterful coaching job up to that point in a season after Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks headed to the NBA. He shaped Casey Mitchell into the scorer he came in as, he had found a way to get big Deniz Kilicli to play in his system and he had developed John Flowers into a star, much as he had done the same with Joe Alexander.

Then along came this game and the truth about this West Virginia team was exposed, despite as furious and unbelievable a comeback as they almost pulled off, erasing a 24-point Marshall lead in the second and whittling it down to four points in defeat.

But it was as Huggins had suspected it was.

“We are not good enough,” he said.

In the end, it comes down to talent and what you come to learn quickly is that this is not a tremendously talented team as individuals.

“We don’t have good enough players not to play together,” is the way he put it.

There really is no one who is capable of consistently getting a shot on his own. Casey Mitchell is the closest and has grown into a pretty good scorer, but he can be shut down, as has been proven far too many times over the last year and a half.

Deniz Kilicli can score down low, as he showed with four consecutive baskets against Marshall, one after taking an offensive rebound under the basket, skying and performing a difficult over-the-head, backhand dunk.

But he becomes a liability when Huggins has to go to certain defenses and until he gets that down he is going to be a partial player.

Kevin Jones is a solid player who can score, but his buckets come from doing the dirty work on the offensive boards and being the go-to guy on many of the offensive sets.

Flowers really has become the most dynamic of the Mountaineers, scoring 16 points on four of six shooting from the field and 6 of 8 from the free throw line.

The problem is that his teammates don’t seem to have yet realized what Flowers has become and in a game like the Marshall game he certainly should be taking more than eight shots. Over his last three games he has scored 24, 15 and 16 while hitting 18 of 24 shots, five of six from 3-point range.

That is 75 percent shooting from the floor.

Still, the emphasis seems to be on Mitchell and Jones rather than Flowers. Players seem more content on trying to take over a game themselves rather than finding the real scoring opportunities. Six assists against Marshall make a strong case for that, guards Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla taking seven more shots between them than Flowers, yet making one fewer combined.

“I have a hard time getting through to these guys that if we don’t play together and play as hard as they’re capable of playing then we’re not going to win and we’re not going to beat people,” Huggins said.

Maybe now, the players understand.

“It bothers me we weren’t ready to play,” said Kevin Jones. “We knew where we were at four games ago, and we knew we didn’t want to be in that spot again … That’s a cause for concern, and we need to refocus.”

“We’re right back to where we started when we lost to St. John’s and Marquette,” added Joe Mazzulla. “We tried to not let the win affect us … It’s just hard to match the intensity of that team tonight.”

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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