MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There were milestone moments contained within West Virginia’s 87-81 victory over Texas Tech, such as Terry Henderson exploding (28 points), Nathan Adrian resurfacing (first double-digit league game) and Remi Dibo abiding (DNP coach’s decision).
Yet the outcome itself hardly stood as a program milestone. A mere 5,000 fans braved frigid, treacherous driving conditions to attend, and the ones that did weren’t exactly provoked to storm the court after WVU proved once again to be only marginally better than another of the Big 12’s lesser teams.
Texas Tech, you’ll recall, is enduring a six-year swoon in which it has posted an 18-72 record in conference. And the fact West Virginia has contributed to four of those losses during the most recent 13 months is the epitome of small consolation.
Nope, nothing to preen about from dispatching the Red Raiders, and the Mountaineers sensed such. They realize the real reward—if indeed this season is to provide any—can only be derived by making hay in the unrelenting stretch that awaits. Beginning with Saturday’s game at Oklahoma State, West Virginia plays nine straight opponents with RPIs of 37 or better.
That’s a daunting lineup for any squad in college basketball, much less the Mountaineers, who stand 0-7 against teams currently in the RPI top 106.
Forget for a moment any daydreams of making the NCAA tournament, and consider whether West Virginia (11-8, 3-3) has even a slender hope of finishing at .500—a mark that would reveal tangible progress from last season’s washout.
With 13 guaranteed games remaining, WVU needs five wins to close at 16-16. And considering the lineup ahead, four of those wins would represent monumental upsets. Court-storming upsets.
Past results from games against Gonzaga, Wisconsin, Purdue and Oklahoma State say WVU on its best night is incapable of pulling out games in crunch time. Results from games against Missouri, Texas and Kansas State scream WVU sometimes is incapable of even pushing an opponent into crunch time.
Whether the Mountaineers reinforce their mediocre perception or prove wrong the doubters most assuredly depends on Henderson and Eron Harris achieving the kind of consistency point guard Juwan Staten has shown.
Honestly, even that may not be enough.
“There’s people that have already wrote us off, so we have just got to stay positive,” said Harris.
And to his point, any win—even another one against the likes of Texas Tech—boosts morale.
Said Henderson after his career-high scoring night: “We’re a game away from being in second place. This league is wide-open. Top teams are losing left and right every night. If that’s not motivation, I don’t know what is.”