West Virginia Sees What Other End Of Pressure Is Like
MORGANTOWN,W.Va. — This time the sneaker was on the other for West Virginia and it didn’t fit so good.
In their most recent heyday the Mountaineers gave meaning to the term “Press Virginia” by playing all-out pressure throughout the game and taking advantage of their opponents’ inability to handle it.
Well, St. John’s turned “Press Virginia” into press Virginia, West Virginia that was, putting the Mountaineers through 40 minutes of hell and surviving a late rally to win, 70-68, in Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The loss was West Virginia’s first of the season after seven victories and will go into the record books as occuring on December 7, but Coach Bob Huggins violently disagrees with that, insisting they lost the game by being ill prepared to play from two lackadaisical practices the two prior days.
“We got a little giddy with being 7-0. We didn’t take things as serious as we had taken things,” Huggins stressed after the game.
He had statistics to back that up, stats like 22 turnovers and 5 for 12 free throw shooting.
“We were horrible yesterday. We weren’t bad, we were horrible,” the coach said of practice. “I tried talking to them. I tried to explain to them you are going to walk in here against some people who have something to prove. You are not going to get the calls. We have never gotten the calls in here.
“We did not prepare to win in any way, shape or form.”
It wasn’t hard to believe that the Mountaineers lost the way they played, but it was nearly impossible to believe that instead of being buried alive they had a chance to win with a last second shot.
If they weren’t smart, if they weren’t sharp, WVU wound up displaying great heart to overcome a late 10-point deficit, holding St. John’s to just one basket in their last 14 shots. Were it not for one of those phantom fouls called so often against WVU the Mountaineers would have pulled off the rally.
The comeback was built on defense and Miles “Deuce” McBride, who would make the key mistake at the end — but certainly not the only mistake — was the chief defender, making a couple of key steals that let WVU get back into the game.
Let’s fast forward to final minute when McBride made a steal and got ball to Sean McNeil, who led WVU with 13 points. McNeil drained his fourth three of the game to tie the score at 68.
When St. John’s missed on its next possession WVU got the ball and went down and got a shot out of Taz Sherman that missed but Derek Culver gathered in the offensive rebound — his 18th rebound of the game. Again, though the bad decision bug bit. Het tried to dribble and St. John’s Rasheem Dunn stole the ball.
Down to the other end they went and Dunn drove to the basket, loosing his footing in the process. Culver was on him at the time but he did nothing to make Dunn start slipping, but the whistle blew and sent Dunn to the line. That was Culver’s fifth foul.
Ever so calmly, as he had all day, Dunn made his sixth and seventh straight free throws at it was 70-68.
Huggins called time out and knew exactly what he wanted to do.
“After they got a call, I figure OK, we’re going to take it to the basket and if we get fouled we’ll get a call,” he said.
The ball was supposed to come in to McBride and he was supposed to take the ball to the basket in the five seconds left on the clock.
Only it didn’t happen that way.
McBride went down the right sideline, pulled up for a tough shot and failed to make it.
“He’s a freshman and he’s got a huge heart,” Huggins said. “He got us back in the game with his steals … but the last thing I said in the huddle was we have to go to the rim. Five seconds is plenty of time. You all can go from end to end in five seconds with no problem.
“Go to the rim, make them make a call, but he didn’t do that. Of course, we might not have gotten a call anyway, but I’d have liked to have found out.”
“The last shot, they guarded it pretty well,” McBride said. “I made a mistake. I went too far toward the sideline. I should have had it more in the middle of the floor to get a good shot.”
And so it ended without a Miracle on 34th Street finish.