Huggins Not Pleased With How WVU’s Pieces Fit Together against Penn State
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins offered several explanations about his team’s lackluster performance in an 84-82 loss to Penn State Saturday at the WVU Coliseum, but for junior forward Lamont West, the game came down to one simple truth:
“We didn’t play hard the whole game,” West said. “They wanted it more than we did.”
West repeated that answer several times to reporters and said it to no one in particular as he exited the postgame interview session. “We didn’t play hard, didn’t play hard at all.”
The game was decided on a Josh Reaves tip-in with one second left after PSU teammate Lamar Stevens missed a short jumper. The Mountaineers tried a long pass to Sagaba Konate after the tip-in, but the Nittany Lions swatted it away as time expired.
Trailing 43-31 at intermission and down by as many as 14 points in the first half, WVU capped a persistent second-half comeback when Esa Ahmad hit a layup to tie the score with 29 seconds left. Ahmad led all scorers with 25 points, despite missing his first four shots.
Saturday’s other winner was the Red Cross, which reaped nearly $9,500 in donations to help with its hurricane relief efforts. As an exhibition game, the result will not count on either team’s regular win-loss record.
But don’t tell that to West.
“It don’t count,” the Mountaineer junior forward said, “but, personally, it do count with me.”
Though displeased and discouraged, Huggins was far from furious after the game. He admitted his team played poorly and leveled some harsh criticism on his players at times, but sprinkled in “we’ll get better,” at points in his press briefing as a matter of perspective. T
he mood of the veteran coach was tempered by the fact that his team displayed only basic offensive and defensive schemes so as not to give Buffalo an edge when it visits the Coliseum for the official season opener on Nov. 9.
“We were very vanilla,” he said. “We didn’t want to throw the war chest out there and then Buffalo has a week to prepare for it.”
He also said he “could have and maybe should have,” called more time outs, particularly during the first half, when WVU was falling behind by double digits.
“I want our guys to learn,” he said. “I wanted them to have to work through a little adversity. We’ve got so many new guys who think they’ve arrived and they haven’t.”
And lastly, and most importantly, Huggins knows his team is neither completely healthy nor completely polished.
Junior guard Beetle Bolden, a projected starter, dressed but did not play Saturday as he continues to nurse an injured hand and wrist. Konate, one of the premier big men in the country, played just 26 minutes, finishing with 15 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Huggins said he was reluctant to play Konate as much as he did but the junior, who is dealing with swelling of his knee, begged to stay in the game.
The Mountaineers nearly had five players score in double figures with Brandon Knapper adding 11 points, Chase Harler 10 and West chipping in with nine. Huggins thought West, who played 27 minutes, didn’t play up to his capabilities.
With all that being said, WVU certainly displayed some obvious weaknesses Saturday.
Penn State freshman guard Myles Dread torched WVU for 23 points, hitting 5-of-10 three-pointers on the day. As a team, the Nittany Lions shot 52 percent from the three-point line – 9-of-16 in the first half and 4-of-9 in the second.
Huggins attributed inexperience to the many defensive lapses the Mountaineers displayed around the perimeter.
“We don’t make rotations,” he said. “How many shots did we give up in the corner? You haven’t seen that in recent years. Nobody gets those. We give those up because we don’t make rotations.”
Stevens added 20 points for the winners, and Rasir Bolton had 15 for the Nittany Lions off the bench.
WVU was also out-rebounded 41-37, 18-15 off the offensive glass. Penn State’s effectiveness inside led to 17 second-chance points, including the agonizing final bucket.
“Two weeks ago, we did 25 minutes to start practice of just rebounding because I knew we were really bad at it,” Huggins said. “I must not have done the right thing. We’ve got to get better at it and we will.”
All in all, Huggins concedes that his team is a work in progress. At this point in the season, he is mixing and matching lineups and players. You won’t hear him refer to this process as a building a puzzle, however.
“I told the guys, it’s like having a whole bunch of pieces on the floor,” he said. “You don’t have nothing – it’s just crap right now. If those pieces fit together, then you’ve got something. Right now, there’s too many pieces that don’t fit.”