(Bob Huggins pregame press conference)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Erik Stevenson could not help his Mountaineer teammates in the critical closing minutes of their last two games. The fifth year guard and WVU’s leading scorer fouled out in the second half of losses at Kansas State and Oklahoma State last week. His exits from the games were accelerated by technical fouls in each contest.
Friday morning, Stevenson stepped up to the microphone at the WVU Basketball Practice Facility to take ownership of and apologize for his late-game actions in the 67-60 loss to Oklahoma State.
“I know my actions did not represent this program the way it should be. This coaching staff, this fan base and my teammates, I just wanted to apologize for that,” Stevenson said.
“I know how serious it is. I know that my actions didn’t technically cost us the game but it prevented me from staying in the game, which essentially could have helped us win both of those ball games. Those are things I just don’t do on a regular basis. I know it doesn’t look good on my part.”
Stevenson made three consecutive 3-pointers against the Cowboys before being issued a technical foul for making an inappropriate gesture while celebrating. The technical foul blunted West Virginia’s momentum and they were unable to recover.
“Truth be known, we’ve all done dumb things and we are all at least fairly intelligent people that make mistakes. He made a bad mistake. So you acknowledge it and move on,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins.
(Erik Stevenson pregame press conference)
Now the Mountaineers (10-4, 0-2 Big 12) move on to a stern challenge Saturday evening at a sold-out Coliseum. WVU will host defending national champion Kansas. Tip time is set for 6 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on ESPN+/Big 12 Now.
West Virginia will take the court without starting point guard Kedrian Johnson. He suffered a concussion in Monday’s game. Johnson leads the team in assists (48) and steals (23). Huggins says Joe Toussaint, Kobe Johnson and possibly true freshman Josiah Davis will pick up added minutes.
“Keedy is the one guy that every single guy on our club respects,” Huggins said. “They respect what he has done in the past. They respect the fact that here’s a guy who could have left and said, ‘This is my school. This is my team. I want to help fix this’. You can’t imagine the respect that guy has from our other guys.”
No. 3 Kansas (13-1) is one of four teams (Kansas State, TCU and Iowa State) sporting 2-0 record in Big 12 play. The Jayhawks erased a 15-point halftime deficit to defeat Oklahoma State on December 31 and they won at Texas Tech on Tuesday.
Bill Self’s team is paced by the Big 12’s leading scorer Jalen Wilson. The 6-foot-8 redshirt junior forward is averaging 20.6 points per game.
“I think Bill has always had ‘The Guy’,” Huggins said.
“Bill’s got a four-leaf clover in his pocket. He got those two guys a year ago that are both pros now and they weren’t even being recruited by people.”
“I think we like our matchups going into this game. I like our matchups going into any game, to be honest. If we play the way we are capable of playing and we’ve got guys staying out of foul trouble, we can win any game in this league and any game in America,” Stevenson said.
Saturday’s game will be WVU’s first contest at the Coliseum since defeating Stony Brook prior to the Christmas break on December 22.
“I think coming back home, we are going to get our swag back and get our mojo back,” Stevenson said. “It is going to be sold out in here the next two games. We’ve got to start with Kansas and get that one. And then hopefully we’ll get on a run.”
Despite falling out of the AP and coaches polls over the last week, West Virginia is 16th in the latest NCAA NET ratings. Nine of the ten Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 44 in the NET.
“The formula is to win your home games and split on the road. You’ve got to steal a few on the road. Obviously, we let two get away from us. That doesn’t mean we can’t beat Texas at Texas or Kansas at Kansas or at Baylor. We can win any game in this league,” Stevenson said.
“We start out 0-2 and people seem to be thinking we’re falling apart. Really, we’re not. We just had some tough breaks. We’re confident.”
“We’ve got to cut down on the dumb things,” Huggins said. “We’ve got good enough players that they shouldn’t be doing the dumb things that are happening — the forced passes, the bad passes, the defensive breakdowns. Those kinds of things that really need to be cleaned up.”