WVU Flops On Garden Stage
If West Virginia’s performance in Madison Square Garden in a 66-56 loss to Florida in the Jimmy V Classic were a Broadway play it would have closed after the first act.
It was that bad.
The Mountaineers couldn’t shoot. They couldn’t pass. They couldn’t rebound. They couldn’t shoot free throws.
They couldn’t win.
Other than a brief spurt of life in the closing minutes of the first half and early in the second half when they erased a 13-point deficit to take a short-lived lead, they looked like a grade school team playing the high school state champions as they fell to 5-3 on the year.
How bad was it?
West Virginia shot 29.7 percent from the field, 30.4 percent from three, 55 percent from the free throw line, committed 30 personal fouls and had 21 turnovers.
Beetle Bolden, Sagaba Konate and Esa Ahmad, around whom the team is built, went 6 of 29 from the field.
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what goes through players’ minds.
Take West Virginia.
They show up in Madison Square Garden. They are on national television in prime time playing their first Power 5 opponent of the season in Florida in the prestigious Jimmy V Classic.
What else would you need for motivation?
Don’t know, but they went through the motions through most of the first half as empty emotionally as the team bus parked outside.
The early performance was dreadful as they fell behind by 13 points, turning the ball over with regularity, shooting air balls, missing inside, fouling … the fact of the matter was they were lucky to be down by 13 as their fans lit them up on social media.
Huggins, who had been praised as a Hall of Fame coach by Dick Vitale before the game, was wondering if they would even let him in the Hall of Fame if he paid the admission to get in, so bad was his team playing.
But, as the half rushed toward a conclusion, the Mountaineers got a jolt of electricity from somewhere, rising from the dead like the Frankenstein monster.
Forget about the 10 turnovers and one assist they had going into the final five minutes. Forget about the 30% shooting. Forget that they couldn’t get the ball inside and couldn’t score outside.
All of a sudden they were the Golden State Warriors closing that 13-point deficit to 3 as they headed for the locker room, closing with seven straight points to cut the halftime deficit to three.
And Huggins, he was the Hall of Fame coach Vitale had said he was, switching to a 1-3-1 zone in the final minute that caused two turnovers — one of them the first in two and a half games by Florida guard Andrew Nebhard — that led to the final four points of the half.
“We started playing harder,” Huggins explained of the late spurt.
The rest of the way they hardly played.
Huggins had something positive to build on at halftime while Florida coach Mike White had to find a way to make his team — which is really a mirror image of the Mountaineers in that it is inconsistent due to young guard play — find a way to regain the hold they had on West Virginia.
You couldn’t say anyone played well in the first half. Beetle Bolden was 1-7 shooting, Sagaba Konate 2-6 and Esa Ahmad 1-3, but as the second half started they were all 0-for-0 and trying to get revved up.
The first possession of the second half saw Ahmad turn the ball over, but WVU didn’t let that bother them as Konate blocked his first shot of the game, leading to a dunk by Wesley Harris at the other end. Then play got hectic, which was in WVU’s favor for that has been how they have liked it since Huggins arrived, and WVU grabbed the lead at 16:39, turning Florida over and turning it into a thunder dunk by Ahmad.
The Mountaineers had scored 13 straight points and led, 31-30.
Now if only they could get Bolden untracked, his shooting night standing at 1 for 9 at the first media time out of the second half. That didn’t happen, and neither did much else for the Mountaineers.
WVU wasn’t going to pitch a shutout, though, and Florida finally scored after a drought of 8 minutes and 55 seconds when Allen made a couple of free throws and then canned a three to give the Gators the lead back.
Once they had it, they never relinquished it, ringing down the curtain on a soon-to-be-forgotten performance.