MORGANTOWN — No one thought West Virginia would go undefeated this basketball season and no one thinks the 82-71 punch to the gut they took Friday night from Marquette in handing them their first loss of the season will be their only loss.
So why was this one so painful?
Perhaps it was the 12-point lead the Mountaineers once held as they looked to go to the finals of the Charleston (S.C.) Shriner's Children's Classic.
Classic? This was anything but a classic, for WVU must have changed uniforms with a CYO team at halftime — and not a very good one, at that — and stopped playing offense, stopped playing defense and literally handed the ball game to the Golden Eagles.
In the second half, they missed lay ups and gave up 3s. They missed free throws. They were outrebounded. They turned the ball over.
The Mountaineers went from a near perfect team in the first half to a fumbling, bumbling team in search of itself throughout the second half.
Consider what happened from the first half to the second half for WVU:
Shooting... 58.1% ... 27.3%
Threes ... 71.4% .... 16.7%
Points ... 47 ... 24
And this is what Marquette did, much of it courtesy of poor WVU defense:
Shooting ... 43.8% ... 64.%
Threes ... 30.5% ... 61.5%
Points ... 35 ... 47
How can a game that seemed so easy to play in the first half look so hard in the second?
Bob Huggins has 903 wins and is in his 40th year as a head coach.
He doesn't have an answer for that question. All he knows is he's seen the same thing over and over every time this team has taken the floor.
"My point is we have not played a second half yet," he said. "We have not been as hard and competitive in the second half as we have been in the first half. We were up 30 against Akron and they cut it to 13. It was the same as the scrimmage against Dayton.
"Why is that happening. If I knew, I'd fix it." he said. "But what am I going to do, go in at halftime and throw things, jump and down, yell and scream while we're up 12? That makes no sense."
For example, the one thing he could count on so far this year was Taz Sherman, who one night earlier scored a career high 27 in beating Elon. He came out and had 14 first half points on 5 of 9 shooting. In the second half he went 2 of 9 and scored 7 points.
And everyone else went cold with him, leaving Huggins no options.
This was like a magician's disappearing act. You know, now you see it, now you don't.
It wasn't like an ice cream cone evaporating in the afternoon heat.
The lead was there, then it was gone.
There was an early clue. Marquette came out of the locker room and got a dunk. A 3-point answer from Jalen Bridges barely made the Golden Eagles blink.
And then they scored 13 in a row. A lucky 13, for Marquette.
The lead was 1 for the Eagles ... slowly went higher.
WVU had chances. Oh, did the Mountaineers have chances.
"We had to miss 10 layups in the second half," Huggins said. "And we missed at least 7 or 8 in the paint touch shots.
Up close, far away ... nothing was falling and everything was failing.
"It blows my mind," Huggins said. "Why when you are inside do you have to double pump fake? I don't know why. Is it fashionable? They couldn't have thought they were going to block it."
But the Mountaineers did that over and over as the lead went from 1 to 3 to 4 to 6 to 7 and so forth.
Marquette would drive to the basket and either dunk or dish off into the corner for an open 3. WVU must have covering the officials because they were nowhere near the shooters.
And so they lost a game they should have won and on Sunday play Clemson for third place in a tournament in which you don't get any style points for winning.
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