MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A season that began with so much promise ended with West Virginia’s defense giving up an unfortunate record-breaking performance.
A 109-91 loss to Coastal Carolina on Monday in the quarterfinals of the CBI was the most points ever scored against the Mountaineers inside the WVU Coliseum.
In most seasons under Bob Huggins, the game would have been a complete shocker, and Huggins himself said he didn’t see it coming.
This season was anything but conventional, though.
What began with optimism and a No. 13 national preseason ranking ended with a 15-21 record — the most losses in school history in one season.
“We all had high hopes for this season,” West Virginia guard Jermaine Haley said. “Things didn’t go our way. As players, we’re the ones who have to take the blame for that, because we’re the ones on the court. If it’s the effort level that’s not there, that’s the last thing coaches should be asking for. On our part, we have to come out with more intensity and work a lot harder if we want to be successful next year.”
Overall, the season presented more storylines than a daytime drama.
They included one suspension, two dismissals, two transfers leaving the team and an almost daily will-he or won’t-he-play concerning star forward Sagaba Konate, who set the school record for career blocked shots on Dec. 8 and then sat out the final 27 games with a right knee injury.
What went right? What went wrong? We break it down:
After allowing 109 points in its final loss, West Virginia gave up 77.4 points per game, the highest average since 2001-02.
The Mountaineers finished last in the Big 12 in field-goal defense (45.8 percent) and next to last in 3-point field-goal defense (36.1 percent).
“Team defense and individually, we have to keep our man in front of us,” Haley said. “We had a lot of mental lapses on defense. Sometimes it was continuous for three or four possessions and that can determine a game right there. You have to be locked in for 40 minutes and we didn’t do that enough this season.”
After his team gave up 90 or more points seven times this season, Huggins questioned how he handled this bunch.
“How many times did they beat us down the floor?” he asked. “You can’t run down the floor? That’s old stuff, which we’re never going to have again.
“Maybe I was trying to do the right thing by them, and maybe I was too soft on them from the time the season was over through this thing. Maybe I should have practiced them harder. Maybe I should have ran them more.”
West Virginia used its 18th different starting lineup against Coastal Carolina and the only player on the team who did not start at least once was freshman Trey Doomes, who announced his transfer March 18.
Injuries played a part from the beginning, as Konate and guard Beetle Bolden practiced sparingly in the preseason with knee and hand difficulties.
Freshman forward Derek Culver was saddled to the bench in the team’s season-opening loss against Buffalo, because of being late to classes and study halls and then was suspended for the next nine games in order to help him improve academically.
Bolden missed two games in November with a shoulder injury.
Esa Ahmad and Wes Harris sat the bench against Oklahoma State, reportedly because of poor efforts in practice.
Konate missed the Rider game, because of a sore knee, then played the next three games before missing the rest of the season.
Ahmad and Harris were dismissed in February for a violation of athletic department policy and Bolden injured his ankle against Tennessee on Jan. 26 and did not return. He has since announced he is transferring, too.
“It was kind of the story of our season,” West Virginia guard Chase Harler said. “We would take steps forward and think we were on a roll and then we end up taking steps backwards. Consistency is definitely an area that we need to improve on.”
Culver returned from his suspension two games after Konate played his final game and it didn’t take Culver long to become a force in the middle.
He recorded a double-double in just his second game and then added nine more throughout his 26 games played and earned all-Big 12 second-team honors.
Once West Virginia’s roster was reduced to just eight healthy scholarship players, the Mountaineers showed improvements.
“I know it sounds weird, but there is a lot we can take from this season,” Harler said. “We made a run at the Big 12 tournament and we continued to work as a group and didn’t give in to a lot of the other things that were going on. We formed a nucleus of guys who continued to work for something positive.”
WVU’s late-season highlights included a triple-overtime win against TCU, as well as 15-point win against an Iowa State team that went on to win the Big 12 tournament.
In the Big 12 tournament, West Virginia — as the No. 10 seed — beat Oklahoma and second-seeded Texas Tech to advance to the Big 12 semifinals for a fourth consecutive season.
The late-season success was not enough to wipe out the failures that preceded it. In the end, Huggins said the lesson he took from the season was he would never make a decision to help one if it hurt the whole team in the process.
“It’s what I told them, ‘You show us every day whether you really want to be a part something special, or you don’t,’ ” Huggins said. “You know, that’s the thing, you try to help them. I tried to help a bunch of guys this year, and it’s one of the worst seasons in the history of West Virginia basketball, because I hurt the whole. I am never going to do that again.”