West Virginia squandered a 15-point second-half lead to a team picked 16th in the Atlantic 10.
Welcome to Bob Huggins’ personal hell, where the only thing cold is his team’s shooting.
Always the brand of coach who suffers a loss far more than he savors a win, Huggins must be in agony after the Mountaineers’ 60-56 loss at Duquesne.
“We had every opportunity to blow the game open,” he said, and that seemed to be the game’s trajectory when West Virginia stretched the margin to 38-23 in the opening minute of the second half. But then the cakewalk became a pie-in-the-face as Duquesne pulled off its biggest comeback since 1997.
“It’s my job to fix it, and I will fix it. It’s 100-percent my fault, my job. I’m the one who’s supposed to coach them. I’m the one who recruited them. I’ve got to get them better.” — Bob Huggins
The Dukes, presumed cellar dwellers in the A-10 preseason poll, outscored West Virginia 37-20 in the second half, erasing all the goodwill the Mountaineers had generated during a three-game winning streak. The Consol Energy Center, site of the Mountaineers’ NCAA tournament loss to Gonzaga last March, wrote a far more depressing chapter for WVU basketball Tuesday night.
The loss also may have written off hopes of another trip to the NCAAs, given that it could become an RPI killer.
“This is just embarrassing for the fans and everybody,” said West Virginia forward Deniz Kilicli, confined to one shot in the game’s first 24 minutes by Duquesne’s packed-down defense. “We are deeply sorry about this one.”
“Just complacent,” was how guard Matt Humphrey summarized WVU’s second-half meltdown. “We came out OK and we ended up flat. Up 15? You don’t lose games like that.”
By the time Humphrey hoisted a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left — the only one West Virginia made in a 1-for-8 second half — that 15-point WVU cushion had flipped to a 59-53 deficit. For a fleeting moment, though, Humphrey’s shot tossed the Mountaineers a lifeline, one graciously extended by Duquesne’s Sean Johnson missing the front end of a one-and-one with 11 seconds left. Back came WVU and back went the ball to Humphrey, this time for the potential game-tying 3, albeit a hurried 23-footer amid two defenders.
This time it didn’t fall.
Gary Browne slithered in for the rebound and was fouled on the putback with four seconds to go. But WVU’s make-and-miss plan was foiled when Brown boinked the first free throw. Hoping for a rebound and kick out on his second attempt, Browne missed the rim entirely — appropriate for a team that shot 1-for-6 from the line after halftime — and Duquesne automatically gained possession.
Yet, as Humphrey stated, this game wasn’t fouled up in the final seconds, but rather, it turned tragic when WVU left the proverbial door open and Duquesne (6-4) caught a wave of confidence. In quick-turn fashion, the underdogs became the aggressor, a team playing with verve that manifested itself in reserve guard Jerry Jones scoring 12 of his 16 points in the final 8:16, and the 5-foot-11(on a stepstool) point guard Derrick Colter penetrating for back-to-back layups amid WVU’s bigs.
That span of soft defense, coinciding with an evening of soft rebounding, explains how a West Virginia team we thought to be repaired from a 1-3 start was suddenly broken again.
“It’s my job to fix it, and I will fix it,” Huggins said. “It’s 100-percent my fault, my job. I’m the one who’s supposed to coach them. I’m the one who recruited them. I’ve got to get them better.”
Getting better, even substantially so, may not be enough to save the Mountaineers from a flogging against No. 3 Michigan on Saturday. But these days, WVU isn’t really measuring itself against the powerhouses of college basketball.
It’s just trying to prove it can close out games against a piddling mid-major 90 miles up the interstate.