AMES, Iowa — If Ted Cruz can win a caucus while bashing the media, why shouldn’t Bob Huggins pile on?
The head coach of West Virginia—or “Mess Virginia” as one Morgantown headline prompted after Saturday’s blowout loss at Florida—told staffers to place copies of said newspaper in players’ hotel rooms Tuesday morning.
“We stuck that under their door this morning, so they woke up with that,” Huggins said. “We were 17-4 and 12th in the country and the headline was ‘Mess Virginia.’ I think they kind of used that as motivation.”
Huggins even read the column to his team, a sort of pregame storytime, albeit it one laced with words you didn’t hear from Fred Rogers. Huggs played up the assertion the Mountaineers laid down in Gainesville and embarrassed the state with a 17-point loss.
Based on West Virginia making its own magic 81-76 at Iowa State, the criticism resonated.
“The article said, ‘We don’t play hard and we don’t have the fortitude we’ve had in the past,’” Huggins said. “I think it helped us a bunch.”
Motivational devices have value over a five-month season that stretches 35-plus games, but thing is, for the first 11 minutes Tuesday night West Virginia was, once again, a mess.
Down 23-8, and in the throes of missing six consecutive shots. Meantime, Iowa State was making six straight. Two dunks, uncontested 3s by Georges Niang and Monte Morris, another Niang jumper off a too-easy pass into the post—nothing about WVU’s defenders resembled the “pit bulls” Niang billed them to be before the game.
Then Jaysean Paige, henceforth known as offensive option No. 1, tucked the ball and powered for a layup. Almost instantly, the West Virginia’s mess subsided and the game tightened.
“Everybody counts us out regardless,” said Paige, whose 3 pointer with 65 seconds left put WVU ahead and represented the most crucial basket of his two-year career. “Nobody expected us to win this game.”
Perhaps nobody in Ames expected Devin Williams to nearly outrebound the Cyclones. He grabbed 18, not far off the home team’s total of 26, making up for his puny outputs in two previous appearances at Hilton Coliseum.
“Whole different year, whole different team, whole different spirit,” he said as the Coliseum emptied. “(Jameel) McKay’s top two in the league in the rebounding and I’m top five in the league, so I just wanted to show I could rebound with the best.”
Williams rightfully suggested this victory carried more significance than the home takedown of then-No. 1 Kansas. After all, West Virginia had gone 1-14 on the road against ranked teams since joining the Big 12. Then take into account the massive first-half comeback, and the steadiness shown while erasing another five-point deficit in the final 3:18, and this met all the criteria of being monumental.
Then Williams presumed the national media wouldn’t really notice.
“We won this game and ESPN will still be showing freaking Texas and Iowa State more than showing what we’ve done,” he cracked. “We ain’t had respect since the season started.”
Cyclones fans trudged out into the swirling snow, trying to comprehend the abject horror of a second home loss in the same season. Inside, two local writers were discussing when public sentiment might turn against first-year coach Steve Prohm, whose team sits 14th in the RPI and owns a 16-6 record against the nation’s second-toughest schedule.
Appears it’s the Cyclones’ turn to face a doom-and-gloom headline.