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February 24, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Bad season has turned embarrassing

MORGANTOWN — In the end, West Virginia’s embarrassing 73-57 loss to Oklahoma State at the Coliseum will be forever carried away in bits and pieces of ineptitude by the 10,038 fans who wasted their Saturday afternoon by coming to the game.

It will come back to them, just as it will to coach Bob Huggins and to his players, in nightmarish flashes that would bring forth laughter were they not so much a sign of a bad team that seemingly didn’t even care about losing its 14th game among 27.

The statistics, of course, tell you why they put themselves in a situation where they reside below .500.

You don’t win basketball games shooting 30.2 percent. You don’t win basketball games with seven assists and 17 turnovers. You don’t win basketball games playing the second half like you’d rather be off skiing somewhere.

Put bluntly, this basketball team has become an embarrassment.

That is a strong statement, yet it is one they admit to, right from the coach on down.

“I’ve been embarrassed since the first game,” Huggins admitted, thinking back to a 34-point loss at Gonzaga that included 20 turnovers. “I don’t get beat like that. My guys played so hard, competed so hard we never ever got beat like that … ever.”

Yet this team got beat like that the first game out of the gate.

And it really hasn’t shown much improvement, nor has it shown much embarrassment to the coach.

“They don’t seem to,” he said, when asked point blank if he thought they were embarrassed by their performance.

He would not offer publically why he said that, but he said he had reasons for feeling that way.

The truth more than likely is that the players who should be embarrassed really don’t feel that way while the few players who have put forth effort, who have tried to figure out what is wrong and make it right … they feel embarrassed.

Kevin Noreen is one such player.

“Absolutely,” he answered. “People expect excellence and we’re not providing that. It’s hard to go to class. It’s hard to walk around here. There’s nothing right now that we can hang our hats on.”

Nothing.

And it isn’t one person’s fault or two or three. It’s damn near everyone’s.

What images will the fans take with them from this game?

There was Juwan Staten’s alley-oop pass on which Aaric Murray neither alleyed nor ooped, the ball sailing out of bounds.

There was a pass from Deniz Kilicli to Noreen, where Noreen wasn’t. In all, Kilicli had four of the 17 turnovers.

Then there was the shot clock violations.

That’s plural.

“When you’re down, you have to score. It has to go up one way or the other,” said Matt Humphrey, the transfer who was expected to help putting points on the board but spent most of the year battling shoulder problems. “We had a couple of shot clock violations. At some point, one of us has to go get the ball and try to score. No one wants to get a shot clock violation.”

How can you have a shot clock violation trailing by double figures?

But the most vivid memory of what was wrong came on a play that turned out not to be a violation.

Oklahoma State had the ball and the shot clock was ticking down and, as always, the student section was a few seconds ahead of it, trying to make the shooter rush.

“Six … five … four … three … two …” they chanted.

Off balance, nearly standing out of bounds, the Cowboys Le’Bryan Nash threw up a pray, far short.

The students started laughing at him, seeing as there were five seconds still really left on the clock when he shot the ball.

Did it matter?

Not at all, Brian Williams jumping up and tipping the short shot toward the basket, the buzzer going off just as the ball went through the hoop.

Huggins was amazed.

“The shot clock is running down, they are falling out of bounds and they heave one up. You think we would block out. No. They catch it and lay it in and we are standing there watching it,” he said. “That is not playing.”

   “We can’t run a set because I have guys who have been here two years who don’t know what they doing. It’s totally inexcusable. They don’t have any idea what they are doing,” Huggins said. “I can’t call a set unless I have certain guys on the floor. We’ll have one guy stand somewhere where he’s not supposed to stand and screw everything up.

“There are guys I can’t run a set after a time out and it’s totally inexcusable when they have the resources they have to be able to go watch things, look at things, learn things.”

Noreen backed his coach up on this.

“We can’t run offense because some of our guys don’t know sets. This late in the year that can’t happen. As one of the leaders I take some responsibility for that,” he said.

“I was a freshman … twice (he played some and then missed the rest of the year with injury). I didn’t know what was going on. Guys like Joe (Mazzulla) and Cam (Thoroughman) took me aside and helped me out … but some of these guys are not freshmen.”

They are sophomores and still don’t know which way is up and because of it they may spend the tournament season at home.

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

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