By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
West Virginia University saved the worst for last.
In a game the Mountaineers had to win to have any chance to advance to the NCAA Championships, the Mountaineers played so badly that their membership in the NCAA is liable to be questioned, losing to Texas, 66-49, to be eliminated from the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Texas goes on to face Baylor in the semifinals while the Mountaineers will limp into the NIT, almost certainly, the limp belonging to WVU all-conference point guard Juwan Staten, who left this game with an injured ankle and just four points.
It was difficult to imagine this was the same team that scored 92 points on Kansas in its final regular-season game, Eron Harris scoring 28 points, Staten 24 and Devin Williams 22.
That’s 74 points. Against Texas they scored 9 points, one fewer than Brandon Watkins, who was their high scorer.
Certainly, Texas expected more.
“You go into a game expecting it to be a close game,” said Texas coach Rick Barnes. “You get a lead you know your opponent has a chance because of the 3-point league. But you never expect it to be easy.”
Staten’s four points came from 1-for-11 shooting. Harris scored three, making his final shot of the night before fouling out, and Williams had two points.
The three combined for 3-for-22 shooting from the floor.
You could not do much worse shooting blindfolded.
You can rest assured, earlier on Thursday, someone connected with the West Virginia team joked around a bit about poor, pitiful Rutgers, which had just lost to Louisville, 92-31.
Someone probably pointed out, laughing, that had not one Louisville starter scored in the game they still would have beaten Rutgers, 32-31.
Little did they know …
At halftime, WVU did not have half Louisville’s total. Not even close to it.
In truth, the Mountaineers did not play their worst half of the season.
They played their worst half of the decade … and maybe just their worst half ever as Texas, playing a zone that absolutely stymied All-Big 12 guard Juwan Staten and his partner, jumped to a 12-0 lead and rode it to a 35-14 halftime lead.
How bad was it?
If Shakespeare were a sports writer, he would have answered that by saying “let me count the ways.”
At halftime WVU’s leading scorer was?
Want to guess?
It was Kevin Noreen with 5 points.
Brandon Watkins with 4 points.
Juwan Staten? Completely stymied with 3 points on 1-of-9 shooting.
Eron Harris, his cohort at guard. He ended a scoreless half sitting on the bench with his warmup on.
At halftime, West Virginia was shooting 18.2 percent, hitting 6 baskets in 33 shots. Texas was shooting 50 percent.
And as for 3-point shots, which West Virginia lives by.
Well, they die by them, too, and were 0-for-8 in the half, only one of them even coming close to going in.
Coach Bob Huggins was so frustrated that at one full timeout, he didn’t even let his players sit down.
Perhaps he felt it was difficult to get tired the way they were playing.
As for Texas, they were playing a nearly perfect defensive game and had two players – Jonathan Holmes and Javan Feliz – who were outscoring WVU, 21-14. Holmes was leading the way with 11, Feliz with 10.
Normally, you would hold out hope for a second-half comeback. WVU had not won a game all year that it trailed by 10 or more points … but this is tournament time and strange things happen.
And WVU came out as if some good things were about to happen, Remi Dibo hitting a jumper and then forcing a shot clock violation.
So much for the good things that happened in the second half.
You couldn’t have done worse if you tried.
As the deficit mounted, the following things transpired:
Staten twisted his ankle and went directly to the locker room, not even stopping at the bench, screaming from down the tunnel in pain, then wound up watching the rest of the game with his shoe off and ice on an elevated ankle.
Brandon Watkins went to dunk only to have Connor Lammert fly out of nowhere to not only block it, but jam it between the rim and backboard for a jump ball, the arrow going Texas’ way.
Then there was a missed one-and-one by Texas rebounded by Gary Browne, the only one to even go for the ball … and a lane violation was called.
Over and over things like that happened.
Take Eron Harris.
He finally got on the board, hitting a 3-point shot with 5:30 to play.
Five seconds later he fouled out of the game.
Not that it mattered for it had been over for about 30 minutes by then, lacking only the final buzzer.
There was one salvation. At 2:11, Watkins scored up close to give WVU 41 points, one more point than the football team had scored against the Longhorns this year.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.