By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
We have not yet seen the best of this West Virginia University basketball team, but it is safe to say that on Saturday afternoon in the Coliseum, we saw the worst of it.
At least that better be the worst.
Oh, the scoreboard doesn’t really openly reflect how awful things got in the Coliseum as the Mountaineers returned from a week off final exams. The game goes into the books as a victory, seemingly an easy one, beating Texas A&M-Corpus Cristi, 84-64, before 7,226 fans ... fans coach Bob Huggins believes deserve better.
“People drive a good way to come to the games in West Virginia,” he said. “They pay good money to see the games. We should pay attention to that. A crowd of 7,000 with the students gone is good. We deserve to give them more.”
Just what did the Mountaineers give them? Best put, it could be said they were given a few anxious moments and nowhere near their money’s worth for the effort.
The first half was something of a disaster. Kevin Jones quickly scored two baskets. He also quickly drew two fouls and was out after six minutes.
Deniz Kilicli turned the ball over the first two times he touched it. He went out five minutes into the game, Huggins upset with his effort. Toss in 2-for-7 shooting by the third member of the “Big Three,” Truck Bryant, and you had a first half during which the Mountaineers often had five newcomers on the floor at once.
They stumbled and staggered, led by 32-28 at the half over this team that had only one victory.
“We had 15 turnovers; that’s way too many. We missed 12 free throws again. Three or four times we dribbled the ball off our foot. At this level you should never dribble the ball off your foot. You can watch fifth-graders, and they don’t do that,” Huggins said, looking at the final statistics sheet.
In the second half, Huggins put Jones back into the game, and a semblance of sanity returned. People looked for him and he began scoring ... and scoring ... and rebounding. He finished with 22 points on 11-of-16 shooting with eight rebounds, two assists and no turnovers.
“They need our scoring and rebounding, but they need our leadership as well,” Jones admitted. “I just wanted to come out and set an example for my teammates by playing hard.”
Huggins actually had decided to hold Kilicli out the entire second half, trying to get a lesson through to him. In part he was upset with comments Kilicli had made in the papers after the last game, comments that led to them standing there in an animated conversation as play went on.
Kilicli had said that at times when Huggins was “coaching him” he tuned him out. Kilicli admitted he said that, but said he was misunderstood.
“I tune out the censored part,” he said. “But I listen. What I do now, that is all what Huggs has taught me.”
When Huggins changed his mind and decided Kilicli had gotten the point and should return, he did so with a new attitude that included a second half of 3-for-3 shooting, including a thunderous dunk, a couple of nifty inside passes to Kevin Jones for easy baskets and four rebounds, all that in just 10 minutes of play.
“I am not happy,” Kilicli admitted. “I hope this never happens again. We almost lost.”
The Mountaineers scored 52 points in that second half and outrebounded Corpus-Christi, 17-10. For the game, Jones had 22 points, Bryant 14 and Kilicli 13, hitting a combined 14 of 22 shots.
Still, Huggins knows that having to play without his three stars won’t allow him to win many games.
“We got these (other) guys saying, ‘Why am I not going into the game?’” Huggins said. “Then you put them in and they find out why you weren’t playing them.”
It was almost a comedy of errors, only no one was laughing.
“We shoot 45 percent in the first half, 60 percent in the second half. What’s that show? When we throw it to those three guys (Jones, Kilicli and Bryant) good things happen.”
NOTES: WVU has a day off, then returns Monday night to play Tennessee Tech at 7 o’clock in the Coliseum as part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic. ... Freshman Tommie McCune scored his first collegiate points with a second-half 3-pointer. ... Walk-on Paul Williamson came off the bench and hit a late 3. ... Huggins needs two more victories for 700.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.