When college basketball season opened last fall, there were 347 NCAA Division I teams in 32 conferences participating.
Saturday evening, when West Virginia University faced Duke in the NCAA Tournament semifinals in Indianapolis, 343 of those teams were at home.
WVU fell to the Blue Devils, 78-57, in front of a crowd of 71,298 at Lucas Oil Stadium to cap a 31-7 season for the Mountaineers.
Nevertheless, a season in which coach Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers set a school record for victories and reached the Final Four for the first time since the Jerry West-led 1958-59 team will not soon be forgotten.
“I’m proud of our players and our coach and everyone connected with the team, the entire department and all the fabulous people who followed us this year,” athletic director Ed Pastilong said Sunday. “It was a tremendous team effort by every person in the state. This couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of guys.”
Gov. Joe Manchin was with the team in Indianapolis.
“This team has meant so much to the entire state of West Virginia,” said Manchin, who had a front-row seat behind the bench. “Win or lose, the people of this state love this team so much.”
WVU President James Clements enjoyed the Mountaineers’ basketball success during his first year in office.
“What this means to the university and the state is incredible,” Clements noted. “They played so hard all year and had such good chemistry.”
Falling two wins short of a national championship doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm.
“I am so proud of this team,” Clements said. “What a great year it has been and what great thrills they have given us. We had not made the Final Four in 51 years. Bob Huggins is a great coach and leader, and this team has represented the university so well.”