By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It was not long, really, before West Virginia University took the floor against Pittsburgh. The earphones that had been providing whatever pre-game music the individual players listen to had been stored away.
The Mountaineers were nearly ready to head out onto the floor at the Petersen Events Center, a building in which they had won once and had lost seven times, all of them in a row.
Kevin Jones is a senior, a leader, a player who had gone through the torture of loss after loss here, who had watched his team blow an eight-point lead as a sophomore and fall in triple overtime.
He had something to say, one final speech in a game that was important enough in the scheme of the season – a season that had deteriorated into six losses in seven games – let alone a game that might be the last in some time between West Virginia and their Backyard Brawl rival.
Jones looked at his teammates and spoke.
“Why not us?” he said. “Why not win here? Why not win now?”
His teammates understood.
“They bought into it,” he would say later, a widening 66-48 victory theirs, their NCAA Tournament hopes still alive.
They did it the way they should have done it in Morgantown when, quite frankly, they were disgraced by a mediocre Pitt team that beat them to every loose ball, that outhustled and outmuscled them on their home court.
Not this time.
“We took the fight to them,” Jones said. “Usually we let them come to us, but we took it to them.”
They did it with Jones scoring 16 points and pulling down 13 rebounds for his 18th double-double of the year, this one significant in that he did not have any offensive rebounds. They did it with Darryl “Truck” Bryant, who had had a miserable week that included a late-night escapade, coming off the bench to score 15 points and pull down 7 rebounds.
They did it with the freshman guards Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne outhustling Pitt, getting those loose balls, turning them time and again into breakaways, sometimes even making the open layup on the first – or second – try.
And then there was Deniz Kilicli, who has become the Beast of the East, so to speak, pounding his way to 14 points, hitting the floor himself a few times, taking others down on other occasions.
The last four games he has turned in a powerful inside force, a menacing creature almost.
“Those guys, they can’t guard me,” he said. “I have realized that. Since Providence I am scoring very easy.”
He may think it’s easy, but it doesn’t look that way. Defenders are everywhere, and he seems to feed off it.
“I work hard in the post and occupy three men. That’s what I do on this team. K.J. scores and rebounds. Truck shoots 3s.” he said.
And it isn’t enough.
“If I can occupy five people I will, but the little guys don’t want to come around,” he said, laughing at his own joke.
What isn’t a joke is his analysis of the two teams, Pitt and West Virginia.
“We are more talented than they are. We’ve got more depth. When you make them play basketball, they can’t,” he said.
And his analysis of his own team is also incredible to hear, for he offers nothing that could be mistaken for modesty, false or not.
“Everything is mental,” he said. “This team has talent, maybe more than the Final Four team. If we play like we can, no one can beat us.”
That may be an exaggeration, but on an evening when you beat Pitt by 18 points on its home floor in front of the Oakland Zoo, a certain amount of hyperbole is allowed.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.