By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
As basketball arenas go, the Carrier Dome is a pretty bad football stadium.
True, it is a piggy back for Syracuse’s basketball program, considering you can jam more than 30,000 in there on occasion, but it offers none of the amenities of the new arenas and none of the emotional attachment that comes with the standards.
It is a rag-tag rag top which holds the noise in and the cold of the Syracuse winter out.
Certainly, it has been home to more than its share of spectacular basketball players and teams, but that is far more due to the coaching of Jim Boeheim than to the architectural monstrosity that is the Carrier Dome.
Despite this, there is a certain amount of affection being shown for the place by the Mountaineers, who come in to face Syracuse in a made for TV Monday night basketball production that offers a lifeline to two Big East teams very much in need of such.
One might wonder why WVU would be looking forward to playing on a court where it has only one victory over the home team, and that so long ago that it resides in the deepest recesses of the memory. The date was Dec. 4, the year 1996, when a Gale Catlett coached WVU team, a Big East neophyte, won by the rather one-sided score of 101-79.
The Mountaineers produced three 20-point scorers in that game, all of them rather legendary names in the program. Forward Damian Owens had 24 and pulled down 7 rebounds, guard Adrian Pledger also scored 24 with five rebounds and four assists and then there was center Gordon Malone, a moody but talented big man who would wind up playing with the Harlem Globetrotters, who hit 10 of 12 shots from the floor to account for 25 points while hauling in 10 rebounds.
That is the only win over Syracuse, but WVU does possess three victories in the building and that is why they are eager to return, the Carrier Dome being the site last March where they whipped by Washington and Kentucky to advance to the Final Four.
Perhaps most excited about the return would be guard Joe Mazzulla, a fifth-year senior who, as hard as this is to believe, never has played against Syracuse there.
He did, however, walk out of there as the most valuable player in the Elite Eight, scoring 17 points with three assists and a pair steals while leading the world in floor burns in stunning Kentucky.
To many, the Carrier Dome is an intimidating place to play, being large and loud and with the Syracuse zone staring you in the face.
You can, however, put the intimidation factor on hold with the Mountaineers.
Bob Huggins teams do not intimidate easily.
“We only played here one time since I’ve been here and I don’t think it bothered them two years ago,” Huggins said. “We didn’t win, but we had a bunch of young guys. That was Truck and K.J. and Devin’s freshman year and it didn’t seem to bother them.”
And last year, when the Mountaineers came in to face Washington and Kentucky, they were more the intimidator than the intimdatee.
Take then freshman Deniz Kilicli, who was impressed but not intimidated.
“The first thing was, for me, I never see something like that,” the jolly, jumbo Turk said. “I never watched it on TV. That Dome was huge.”
So were the Mountaineers.
“We had a swagger last year. We had Da’Sean here. It was great. I can’t put it into words. It was so great to play with those guys, practice with those guys. I wish I could get them back to practice with them now.”
That, of course, won’t happen, not any more than Derrick Coleman or Carmelo Anthony will show up in a Syracuse uniform.
The deal is, neither the greats from the past nor the building will have anything to do with what transpires on the Carrier Dome floor Monday night. All that will matter, when it comes down to it, is whether or not West Virginia can put the ball in the basket, which is 10 feet high, just like in any other arena in America.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.