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Winning’s the only solace as Huggins ponders ‘worst performance in months’

COMMENTARY

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After Wednesday night’s narrow victory wrapped a tourniquet around a team leaking momentum, neither West Virginia’s players nor their 61-year-old coach showed much satisfaction.

Jevon Carter said no one in the locker room was happy about squeezing past a shorthanded Kansas State team. Juwan Staten described it as “one of those games where you feel like you should have lost.” Gary Browne played the any-win-is-good card yet promptly admitted “we can’t do stuff like that.”

Upon beating K-State 76-72, West Virginia began beating up itself for the moments of malaise that made this game competitive at the finish.

Upon beating K-State 76-72, West Virginia began beating up itself for the moments of malaise that made this game competitive at the finish.

From 5:18 remaining until the 1:58 mark the Mountaineers went from 10 points ahead to two points behind. In that span they were 0-of-3 from the floor and 0-of-5 from the foul line with five fouls and two turnovers. Now this, Bruce Weber, was bad basketball.

Meanwhile, normally-quiet Kansas State guard Nigel Johnson was having a Reggie Miller-like experience by producing six points in 13 seconds.

West Virginia, flailing and fading, needed a break—and one arrived in the apropos form of an airball. Browne’s badly missed 3-pointer from the corner dropped into the arms of Nathan Adrian, who was fouled beneath the basket and made the tying free throws.

On the ensuing inbounds pass came another break: K-State’s Nino Williams called for traveling when he felt he was bumped by a defender. (Debate as you like whether it was actually a walk or a push; there’s no debating the inconsistent officiating crew had called fouls on less contact.)

Alas, West Virginia converted the turnover into a Devin Williams go-ahead basket and subsequently saw the 71-69 lead stand up when K-State’s Johnson turned unReggie-like by missing two free throws.

When it was over, and the must-win officially recorded, Staten let loose a “whew” through puffed-out cheeks. The senior appeared to be on auto-pilot as he ambled off the court, touching hands with a few fans.

“We had plenty of times we should have put them away, but we started making mistakes,” he said. “Everybody will take a win, but it’s also about the way you play. You want to play good basketball.”

Instead West Virginia scraped by on “good-enough.” Losing 15 turnovers to a K-State defense that sagged and rarely gambled. Giving up run-outs because of press misalignments. Fouling so frequently that K-State enjoyed the bonus for 13:57 of the first half and 9:42 of the second.

Within the previous eight days West Virginia lost to Oklahoma by 19 and Baylor by 18, yet Huggins called this “by far our worst performance in months.”

Kansas State scored 72 points, its highest output since beating Savannah State on Dec. 14. Kansas State shot 56 percent from the field, obliterating its league-play average of 43 percent. Kansas State accomplished this with its best scorer suspended.

“We let people shoot 56 percent because half the time we don’t even know what (defense) we’re in,” said Bob Huggins. “This has been a great group to coach, and today these guys were no fun to coach whatsoever.”

How not fun was it? Within the previous eight days West Virginia lost to Oklahoma by 19 and Baylor by 18, yet Huggins called this “by far our worst performance in months.”

The Mountaineers, after leading by 13 in the first half and by 10 inside of six minutes, repeatedly stumped their own momentum and narrowly avoided a spine-crushing loss.

“If we lost this one we knew we would’ve been done,” said Carter. The freshman meant “done” in reference to the Big 12 title race; the implication, though, might have struck far deeper and more damaging, all the way to Selection Sunday.

Instead, West Virginia skirted a worst-case Wednesday and emerged victorious, relieved and possessing a 19-5 record.

Huggins, declining to categorize it as “a bad win,” merely termed it a frustrating one. In truth, he didn’t care to waste much breath describing it at all.

“If it’s all right with you,” he said, “I’m just going to say we won and move on.”





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