Ben Queen/MetroNews photo

A West Virginia fan holds up a sign during Sunday’s 73-70 loss to Purdue.



MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Maybe the line is as fine as Bob Huggins suggests, this gap between West Virginia playing good teams close and actually closing out good teams.

Maybe the difference is as narrow as a possession or two. A single boxout, a lone defensive rotation, a rebound unclutched. Such was the eulogy Sunday afternoon from a 73-70 loss to Purdue.

“One more play,” said West Virginia forward Devin Williams.

Perhaps the distance between a 7-5 record and something approximating an adequate nonconference showing really is microscopic.

But considering how often this WVU storyline has repeated itself this season, maybe the microscope is calibrated incorrectly. These Mountaineers—likable, energetic and functional at their best—are an improvement over last year’s team, but let’s never overlook how low a bar last year’s team set.
Through 12 games, West Virginia NOW should no longer be compared to West Virginia THEN. The only comparables that matter currently are how WVU stacks up against decent teams, and as Sunday showed once again, the Mountaineers don’t measure up.

They’re 7-0 against teams with an RPI of 232 and lower, and 0-5 against teams 131 and higher. There’s a pretty distinct line, if ever one existed. Purdue came to Morgantown as that 131st-rated team, by the way—a preseason pick to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten, a team that had dropped three of four away from its home arena. And it fielded a roster heavily reliant upon youth, with four freshmen and three sophomores among its top nine minute producers.

Yet once the Boilermakers snatched a two-point lead just before halftime, WVU could never snatch it back. Three times in the second half West Virginia had shots to tie or lead. All three opportunities came on open looks, and all three missed.

• Down 55-52, Terry Henderson launched a 3 from the wing. Not close.
• Down 58-56, Nathan Adrian sized up a straight-on 24-footer. It barely grazed the front rim.
• Down 63-60, Eron Harris took his turn from the wing. Clang.

A fourth opportunity to tie came amid far more duress at game’s end: Harris hurrying into the forecourt with 4.3 seconds left after Terone Johnson’s missed free throw gave WVU a final crack. Harris launched from the left wing, about 25 feet out, only to have Johnson block the shot as time and hope expired.

Based on West Virginia finishing 3-of-18 from 3-point range, you never would have known Huggins had stocked his lineup with perimeter shooters. Henderson went 1-of-6 from deep, Adrian was 0-for-3, and junior college transfer Remi Dibo celebrated his first start at WVU by going 0-of-2 on a scoreless day.

“We’re not going to make them all, but we’ve got to make some,” Huggins said.

Said Henderson, at a loss to explain the contagion of cold shooting: “Everybody has bad days. We had some wide-open looks. We just couldn’t put the ball in the hole.”

Now WVU finds itself in a hole, needing a strong Big 12 run against a league ranked No. 1 in the RPI.
With even a couple wins from the lost bag of Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Missouri or Purdue, WVU might have been able to go .500 in the league and warrant a look from selection committee. Now West Virginia likely needs an 11-7 conference finish to harbor bubble hopes.

Huggins, having itemized a list of possessions that might have spelled a different outcome against Purdue, leaned on his refrain from recent postgame news conferences: “We really are pretty close.”

One play away, they said. One rebound. One jumper. One defensive stop. Viewed through the narrow lens of Sunday’s loss, it seems WVU is very close. But when the circumstances keep repeating themselves, you have to ask how close are they really?

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  • clair thompson

    Same old story NO big man.

  • Richard

    WVUs problem is very simple. We are so happy to have a "star" like Olliver Luck as our AD that we are willing to put up with his pathetic leadership and pathetic coaches.

  • Toadman

    Okay! Somebody please turn a light on down here in the Big 12 Celler! Hey, is that Huggs I just bumped into? It's dark .. and I can't see! Please, somebody do something to raise my gold & blue spirits in 2014. That's it, we'll get 'em next year! There's always NEXT YEAR! Where is that case of beer I had down here, dog gone it ... someone turn on a light!

  • squad

    I disagree here. you can see this team coming on. if consistency holds up with 3 or 4 of them getting double figures, watch out. I think they will get more physical as time goes on. and if Holton joins in the next week or so we could compete THIS YEAR in the league. I still believe that we have a good chance to WIN the B12 next year-conf or tourney. if we can win 10-11 league games, we may get in if a couple league wins are marquee and they would be to get there likely. I know weve lost games that would have made it easier but I think we win some of these types next month. we are coming on.

  • pghmountaineer

    It just amazes me how some here accept the disgraceful state of our two major athletic programs. I've always said these coahes are paid miliions of dollars to put a wining program on the field and court. Yet some here accept the failure and explain it away with "we're building a program".
    Since the hiring of Huggs and Dana our programs have been going backwards.
    Anyone with a half of brain could see the direction were headed, and it's not moving forward.

    • squad

      no man disgraceful is pitt. you have us confused. that's down for decades at a stretch. that's pitt, not us. we can be down and we are coming up. don't know why your type seem to think we are ohio state or Alabama all of a sudden, dude when I young we played home games against vmi and furman. get some perspective can you? looks like network tv has taught everyone the supposed power......yawn.....of drama. faith anyone?

  • Big Red

    This season is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, improving on last year isn't saying much, but it is an improvement. So let's hope we take another step forward next year.

  • 5toldU1s

    Hope everyone has a happy holiday, and that goes out to even the haters <:) }}}

  • madhatter

    some of my comments are posted right away , some not,,,, HUMMMMMMM

  • madhatter

    strange, some of my comments are posted right away, some just set there waiting for moderation,,whatever that means

  • madhatter

    work hard, practice hard, keep you nose clean, you could be a s tar

  • Fred

    Do you even have a moderator Taylor ? You pick and choose who you publish,mostly mindless drivel and personal attacks from your relatives.

  • Allen Tyler

    Taylor,it's BS ,some of the comments that are publisjed here.Heck,I defend WVU and the coaches and I get deleted.William and his clown posse' must be kin of yours.You continually let them go on with their mindless drivel and personal attacks.This needs looked in to by somebody with authority over you.

  • Big Red

    This season (at least so far) is a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, doing better than last year isn't saying much. Nonetheless, there's only one way to eat an elephant, and that's one bite at a time. Hopefully we'll finish this season over .500 and build on it next year. I think we will.

  • Ducks In A Row

    ♫♫ Jesus, Jesus
    What a wonderful child
    Jesus, Jesus
    So lowly meek and mild
    New life, new hope
    New joy He brings
    Won't you listen
    To the angels sing
    Glory, glory, glory
    To the new born King ♫♫

    Merry Christmas Everyone! Yes, even to you disillusioned Marshall fans.

  • eric

    They will be a factor in the big 12 conference tourney. They will continue to have highs and lows, but they should be clicking by the time the tourney starts.

    • madhatter

      ur a total fool if you believe we will be anything but a bottom feeder in the big 12.
      the big 12 is big and tough and we are small and meek
      Harris pouts every game and goes into his immature shell and refuses to pass , play def. or run the floor.
      huggie are recruited some rreal quiters in the mess,,, devon is learning but also is caught up in his ego, i think he's learning he's not so good after ball and high school ball are totally different.