By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
There was a point somewhere midway through the second half when the fans who filled about a third of the Coliseum began to boo Truck Bryant.
This was, almost certainly, the earliest any West Virginia University player has ever heard boos from a home crowd, the clock showing the time to be somewhere near 11:20 a.m.
It may have also been the most misunderstood booing ever in the Coliseum.
True, Bryant had a dreadful game as Kent State roared from out of nowhere to score a 70-60 victory over the Mountaineers, taking them apart piece by piece in a second-half waterboarding.
The senior hit but 4 of 13 shots, made only 4 of 7 free throws, never hit a 3-pointer, had one assist and six turnovers.
To the sleepy-eyed crowd, he was the villain on a day when the other two experienced Mountaineers came to play, Kevin Jones grabbing off 18 rebounds to go with 15 points and Deniz Kilicli, responding to coach Bob Huggins’ criticism of his rebounding in the opener as having pulled down “three more rebounds than the Jerry West statue,” pulling down 15 rebounds with 11 points.
Certainly, Bryant was willing to accept much of the criticism, admitting he had played a bad game.
But he had a lot of company, and Kilicli was more than willing to point out the culprits, many of whom should have been wearing freshmen beanies.
“I can put 25 reasons over here why we lost, but it comes down to one thing. If we don’t compete, we lose every game – Division I, Division II, Division III, street ball,” Kilicli said.
Kilicli felt it was the younger guys who hadn’t put forth the necessary effort, who had not gotten the message of how it is in big-time college basketball.
“Tomorrow they will,” he said. “If they still don’t get it, they won’t have any legs and won’t be able to walk out of here. That’s not what’s going to happen.”
At that point someone said something about freshman mistakes, and that clearly was a burr under Kilicli’s saddle.
“It’s not mistakes,” he said, sounding angry. “Mistakes are something you can fix. ‘OK, don’t go to the wing; go to the corner.’ It takes a couple of times and then you are fine. I think we executed better than before, but when you are not going to the ball, taking one more step, that is not competing. If you aren’t getting opposite when you are supposed to get opposite, that is not competing. You are not attempting to do anything.”
And this brings us back to Bryant.
“I’m not going to blame him 100 percent of this because there’s nobody to pass to. People don’t run to the spots; he’s not able to pass, so he gets caught with the ball,” Kilicli said. “Of course, you’ve got to do better. I’ve got to do better; everyone does. He can have a better game. It’s a team sport. We need the whole team to lift each other up.”
Bryant, being a senior, knowing the team was in trouble, seemed to be trying to take matters into his own hands, to make every play.
“Nobody wants him to do everything,” Kilicli said. “I don’t think that’s the issue. Us three (Bryant, Kilicli and Jones) and the younger guys will lift the team. You need five guys in there. Nobody is good enough to put the team on their shoulder. Nobody.”
The result was those six turnovers to one assist, much of it as Kent State erased a 33-28 first-half deficit, shrugged off a 46-31 WVU rebounding advantage and won the game, doing so by outscoring the Mountaineers, 42-27, in the second half, shooting 58.1 percent to 34.5 percent for WVU.
There were times when it appeared that the Mountaineers might have benefitted by giving Bryant a rest, but when that was broached to Huggins, his reaction was as you might expect.
“And put in who?”
Like he hasn’t been able to find five players, no less a sixth.
“You stand there and look down the bench, and you’d come to the same conclusion,” Huggins said.
Huggins has to make his freshmen grow up and do it quickly. In the locker room he asked them, “Are you freshmen or are you players?”
Obviously, to Huggins there is a difference, and it comes in competing.
“I grew up with my father taking me to the gym before I could walk,” Huggins said. “Basketball has been good to me, and if someone is stealing my basketball I’d probably punch them in the mouth. It’s my ball, particularly in my home.
“I told them, ‘That ball, you’ve got to go get it. You can’t let someone come and take it from you.’”
Yet that is just what happened on an out-of-bounds play when freshman Gary Browne failed to come to the ball and had it stolen for an easy layup.
“All those year Darris Nichols was here, that never happened. It never happened to Joe Mazzulla. They’d go get the ball,” Huggins said.
And so it goes, the Mountaineers losing for the first time to go to 1-1 despite four players in double figures headed by Jones’ 15 points and 18 rebounds.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.