Coach Draws Parallels Between State, Basketball Program After Win At OSU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Bob Huggins has always had his finger directly on the pulse of both West Virginia’s program and the state overall.
How that plays out on the court surfaced Friday night at Oklahoma State in the Big 12 opener. The No. 7 Mountaineers struggled early, being outrebounded and outscored in points in the paint. They turned the ball over. There was a lack of production from Jevon Carter, who turned in one of his worst statistical performances in recent memory, finishing just 2-for-10 from the field with eight turnovers.
The result was that WVU found itself down by seven at 58-51 with 13:33 left. Then suddenly the cumulative effect of the Press Virginia, along with the ability to sift through the debris and find the crux of their foundation in toughness, rebounding and defense emerged. Suddenly, the once surging Cowboys were bucked off their stride, the Mountaineers finding their own choppy, somewhat haphazard flow and using an 11-2 run to forge a 62-60 advantage with 10 minutes to play.
It briefly stunned the home team, and flipped momentum to a squad that, down the stretch, would show greater grit, determination and timely ability to make plays as the Mountaineers took down an 85-79 victory behind six players in double figures led by Teddy Allen’s 15 points. It was, as Huggins pointed out, a showcase of how the state influences the essence of what West Virginia University basketball is.
“You know what we are?,” Huggins said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. “We are a microcosm of our state. We are grind-it-out, tough-it-out, be tougher than everybody else and be successful because we are tougher. We are equipped to endure more. It’s West Virginia. Everybody else plays for the school, the old alma mater. We play for an entire state.”
It’s been said before, but never so quickly after a game that showcased just such. The ability of the Mountaineers to endure Carter’s subpar play, to fight through red-hot OSU shooting early, to hang in the game until that resilient, rugged play was finally exhibited, was indeed the stuff of state mentality. West Virginia, now 12-1 overall, has found a way in a dozen straight games. And its done it in a variety of ways. The formula this time was one of a 22-12 edge in rebounding in the second half paired with the 19-of-21 effort from the foul line in a game in which WVU made 27-of-32 overall.
The Mountaineers also offset 18 turnovers by forcing 21 of their own, or nine more than the season average by an Oklahoma State team which entered at 10-2. It was all underlined by huge individual and tam plays, like Carter’s strip of a potential lay-up that led to Dax Miles’ three at the other end. Or Carter’s own trey to extend the lead to 74-67 with 3:49 left.
There was Allen’s constant ability to both slash to the bucket and find openings in the middle and low block that afforded high-percentage finishes. Sags Konate was his usual rim-protecting self, and was incredibly valuable in tallying nine rebounds to go with 13 points. And when OSU made a final push, trimming a 76-67 lead with 3:11 left to just 77-74 with 1:52 to play, the defensive toughness showed again as WVU held the Cowboys to just two field goal the rest of the way. OK State, in fact, managed just three buckets from the floor over the final 9:45, which is when West Virginia made its move by gradually, methodically grinding down OSU to swing the game from a seven-point deficit to a nine-point lead headed into the final three minutes.
“That we are what I think we are and not what they think they are,” Huggins said of his biggest message at halftime, when WVU trailed 46-39. “This is us, this is what we do. We don’t shoot it as well as other people. We don’t pass it as well. But we grind and we rebound and we come up with loose balls.
“We got 10 more shots. It’s what we do. Somehow I have got to get it through their head that this is us, this is what we do. We grind. We didn’t do a very good job at times. JC gets a little loose with the ball and then we get a rebound and Wes (Harris) tosses it out of bounds. We didn’t execute very well down the stretch but we made free throws and we rebounded the ball.”
And won, yet again, in the style and fashion of a program far more blue collar than blue chip.
“I’m sitting here looking at these stats and we are all thinking we played horrible offensively and we score 85 points,” Huggins said. “We turned it over 18 times – 18 times. JC turned it over eight times. Very uncharacteristic. We made some bonehead plays at the end, but we are young. This game, like other games, is going to help us. There’s going to be a lot of games where we aren’t going to play well. We aren’t the most skilled bunch. But they are getting better and working at it.”
While still winning. It’s not always the pure definition of pretty, but then beauty has always been in the eye of the beholder. From here, a 12-1 mark looks quite attractive – if not downright stunning – heading into the New Year.