By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The smoke that rose from the chimney at the Vatican may have been pure white on Wednesday, but the smoke coming out of the chimneys here in Morgantown was coal black.
There would be no Mountaineer miracle in the Big 12 Tournament.
West Virginia University was beaten.
In a way it was a mercy killing, putting the Mountaineers and their fans out of their misery and saving them the embarrassment of having to have come back today and play No. 1 seed Kansas, a team that had beaten WVU 91-65 the last time they met.
Let Texas Tech enjoy the evening before being led to that slaughter.
The Red Raiders earned that enjoyment.
They beat WVU fair and square, just the way 19 teams had done in a season in which WVU could win but 13 times. It ended with seven straight defeats, something coach Bob Huggins had never experienced before, and it ended as it should have, with WVU losing a game it could have – no, no, no, should have – won.
In truth, it was over almost before it began, when they fell behind by 10 points in the first six minutes. During the year they had fallen behind 16 times previously and won just once.
Why would you believe this would be different?
Because it was Texas Tech, a team that had lost 11 of its last 12 games and was 10-19 and 3-15 in the conference?
Doesn’t matter when this WVU team is on the other side of the floor.
They got down 14, letting a guy named Ty Nurse hit three 3-point shots and score 10 points in the first half.
Nurse had hit 13 3s all year and was averaging 2.4 points a game.
OK, WVU came back and actually battled into the lead. Give the Mountaineers credit for that, if you want, but how many times have you seen that happen only to have them lose?
And they don’t just lose games. They let them ooze away.
You drop a game by two points, fine, it happens. You lose a game by two points on a basket at the buzzer, as this game ended when Jaye Crockett’s off-balance 3 from the corner with 3 seconds left missed only to have Dejan Kravic be standing alone under the basket to rebound it and score with 0.4 seconds left.
You read that right. Oh-point-four seconds, about as long as it takes to blink your eye and the season was over. Deniz Kilicli’s WVU career was over.
“We didn’t block out, which I guess sometimes happens in situations like that,” said Huggins. “They got a very fortunate bounce – it bounced right back to him.”
Texas Tech got a lot of fortunate bounces … 14 offensive rebounds.
“Our credo for as long as I’ve coached is get to the ball. It’s hard to win when you can’t get to the ball,” Huggins said. “For whatever reason, this group is the worst we’ve ever had at getting to the ball.”
But that was only part of the oozing.
WVU was charged with two technical fouls, not from the excitable coach Bob Huggins, but from Aaric Murray and Matt Humphrey, both of whom had done some magnificent things during the evening.
But as they had all year, they had to put a smudge on their performance, find a way to leave a bad memory where there should be a good one.
Murray had done a little bit of everything. He led WVU in rebounding with eight while playing only eight minutes. He scored 11 points. He had a pair of assists, one a magnificent entry pass to Kevin Noreen. He had a steal and 3 blocks, yet …
And Humphrey had hit a breakaway dunk and then a long 3 to bring WVU back into the game before being hit with his technical for his on-court decorum, taunting maybe, but certainly not something you can have happen to you in a tight game where your very existence as a basketball team is at stake.
“I guess there was some talking going on and they told them to shut up and our guy said something after they were told to be quiet,” Huggins said. “The truth of the matter is it should never happen. You can go back and look. My guys don’t do that. They have never done that. It’s inexcusable.”
Those technical cost three points. Need you be reminded WVU lost by two.
But the intent here isn’t to put the onus on anyone, for indeed everyone in a game like this has moments where he can look back and say he hurt the team, especially the way WVU has played this year.
The season started in ashes with an embarrassing loss at Gonzaga, and it never recovered.
Huggins, blessed with the confidence that comes from more than 700 victories, promised he would fix what was wrong but they don’t sell what was needed to fix this team at Lowe’s.
This was a team that just never could grasp the attitude that Huggins was selling.
When out recruiting, Huggins has often heard high school coaches tell him they weren’t sure a player he was looking at competed hard enough to play for Huggins. He always responded one way.
“Don’t worry about that. We’ll teach him to play hard,” Huggins would say.
And he always had done it … until this year, when the edge just wasn’t there. It was a team that didn’t get the floor burns teams in other years had. A Huggins team might not lead the league in wins, although usually it did, but it would lead in stitches received … and given.
Not this year.
So now it’s over, over with what truly is an embarrassing defeat to a team it never should have lost to, a team that was shooting 28 percent from 3-point range coming into the game and shot 66.7 percent in this elimination game.
There’s only one thing you can say on a day like today – Holy smoke!
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.