Column: No excuse will suffice

Terone Johnson was among four Boilermakers in double figures during Purdue’s 79-52 romp over Matt Humphrey and West Virginia.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — When he referenced “bitty basketball” Saturday afternoon, Bob Huggins wasn’t alluding to the small, four-guard lineup he deployed for tipoff. Rather, he was reminiscing on the elementary schoolkids his father once asked him to help coach.

“I couldn’t do that third- and fourth-grade stuff very long,” recalled Huggins. “I had to get the fifth- and sixth-graders — at least someone who could dribble and have a chance to make a pass.”

Having endured WVU’s 79-52 humiliation at Purdue, Huggins lamented, “I’m having flashbacks to that.”

He may feel like confiscating his players’ juice boxes — or perhaps their scholarships — after a Mackey Arena outing marked by lapses and lethargy. West Virginia showed none of the spunk that at least made its last three losses palatable. This was a complete regression, an unraveling of fundamentals and the squad’s most inglorious result since the Duquesne debacle of early December.

The Boilermakers had topped 73 points only once in regulation all season (against five-win Hofstra) and in no games had they made better than 50 percent of their 3-pointers (until hitting 8-of-11 against WVU).

Huggins’ summation of why Purdue chose Saturday to begin blistering the nets: “We let ’em do whatever they wanted to do. We let ’em throw it where they wanted to throw it. We let ’em drive it where they wanted to drive it.”

No excuse-making can account for the wimp-out WVU perpetrated here, a quitters’ clinic that made the gap in the final score far wider than the teams’ gap in talent.

If Huggins’ disgruntlement can be measured by how long it took him to emerge from the postgame locker room, consider that he required a season-long half-hour. As for the talking points of the coach’s extended lecture?

“That we don’t play hard enough,” reported point guard Juwan Staten. “The reputation that coach has built over the years, the teams that he’s had, they always played hard and competed. That’s something that we don’t do.”

If Huggins’ frustration can be gauged by the number of times he questioned his players’ intelligence, digest these three digs:

— “I’ve done this a long time and I haven’t seen the stupid stuff that we do.”

— “I just don’t know if we know how to play basketball.”

— “We used to give guys quizzes after scouting reports to see what they actually learned. I’m not sure if I don’t do it now for them or for me, because when you have guys who never get anything right …”

Wasn’t much right about the spiritless two hours WVU delivered in this one. The Mountaineers had more fouls (20) than baskets (17), and way more turnovers (17) than assists (six).

Dismiss the inevitable grousing about West Virginia’s travel fatigue and upset biorhythms. Yes, Wednesday’s 9 p.m. game at Iowa State put the team returning to Morgantown around 4 a.m. Thursday. No, that inconvenience wasn’t worth the 32 points by which WVU found itself trailing Purdue with 9:29 left. The Mountaineers shouldn’t sweat the loss of sleep — there will be ample time to snooze come March.

(The Boilermakers, for what it’s worth, also played a road game that evening, tipping off only one hour earlier in Lincoln, Neb.)

No excuse-making can account for the wimp-out WVU perpetrated here, a quitters’ clinic that made the gap in the final score far wider than the teams’ gap in talent.

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