BUFFALO, N.Y. — Press Virginia’s potency didn’t always satisfy Bob Huggins or muzzle Bucknell. Still, a few scoop-and-score moments sure incited the building and saved the Mountaineers from extinction Thursday.
First came an electric 3-minute swing that transformed a 9-8 deficit into a 27-12 lead. It yanked back the curtain on a halfcourt game, turned the basketball lecture into a Michael Bay chase scene. The Bison looked out-of-sorts as they dragged pivot feet and sought to squeeze passes through impossible windows.
Four turnovers in a blink had West Virginia feeding. Two led to Lamont West baskets — a rarity of late — and then West whacked a ball loose to Daxter Miles who was already in position for a layup.
The sequence might have done in some mid-majors, especially the kind West Virginia slaughtered throughout November and December.
Of course, March is different. Bucknell didn’t shrink.
Yet neither did the Bison lead again.
Underdog coach Nathan Davis only wished to stop the hemorrhaging and “give ourselves a chance.” Bucknell eventually stabilized to make a push, showing plenty of skill and guts. They were dangerous enough to play from behind, yet imagine their confidence had they been playing from ahead.
More importantly, imagine how tense West Virginia might have looked when faced with another first-round fade-out.
Thanks to that early run, Huggins’ team played with freedom and flow, never forced to confront panic.
Though Bucknell put up 80 points — mind you, WVU had been 0-5 this season when surrendering that many — the Patriot Leaguers spent the afternoon playing uphill. A hill that grew steeper when Nathan Adrian produced a huge defensive sequence in the backcourt.
Bucknell had just stripped a ball from West out-of-bounds, and everyone on the WVU bench could not fathom how the nearby official motioned for Bison ball. As Huggins started in on one of his are-you-!@#$%^-kidding-me chats, Adrian flipped the switch to defense. He overplayed the inbound pass and dove for the steal. Mid-tumble, he flicked a flat-backed assist to West.
Mountaineers by nine.
“That’s what we do,” Adrian said. “Get on the ground, get the ball, get your head up and find the first open guy.”
What West Virginia does is turn floorburns into badges — a ”mentality” born long before Nike decided to print it on warmups jerseys. As monumental as the dive-steal-dish looked in real-time, Huggins acted as if it happens in practice all the time.
“Nate makes plays like that every day,” he said. “Other people maybe think it’s a great play, (but) we see him do it every day. So I don’t think anybody thought it was anything out of the ordinary.”
Press Virginia certainly wasn’t extraordinary Thursday, yet by advancing, the Mountaineers gave themselves an opportunity to be extraordinary next time. The cluster of teams so fortunate is growing smaller by the hour.