MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Following its first home loss this season in a contest where the outcome was hardly in doubt at any point in the second half, West Virginia’s season is at least somewhat in crux with the Mountaineers one of three Big 12 teams that remain without a league win.
The latest loss came in the conference home opener to No. 3 Kansas, a game the Mountaineers never led after 6-5 and trailed by double digits for the final 11:49 in suffering a 76-62 setback.
Following two road losses to begin league play at Kansas State and Oklahoma State, it was the type of performance West Virginia could ill afford.
“I feel like it is in our control,” said point guard Joe Toussaint, who logged a team-high 35 minutes in his first start with Kedrian Johnson sidelined with a concussion. “It’s just a lack of effort. That’s all it is. I’ve played in a lot of basketball games and been down 20 and come back and won. It’s a lack of concentration and wanting to do the dirty work. Like coach always says, ‘It’s the hardest league in America and nobody is going to give us the game.’ We have to take it. We have to switch our mindsets.”
Despite trailing for nearly the entirety of the opening half, WVU’s deficit was only seven at halftime at 42-35.
The Mountaineers got as close as six 4 minutes into the second half, but could never come close to overcoming dismal second-half shooting in which they were just 8 for 27.
“We just missed shots. I’ve been in a lot of basketball games and it’s going to happen,” Toussaint said. “I feel like if you stop the other team from scoring, it’s a game. We lacked that today.”
The Mountaineers are shooting less than 38 percent (65 for 172) in three conference games and are the only Big 12 team not at 40 percent. Compounding that problem has been the team’s inability to make free throws. WVU made 74 percent of its foul shots through its first 12 non-conference games, but is 55 of 94 from the charity stripe in league play.
“When you’re playing the [No. 3] ranked team in the country, everything is important,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “Every pass that you throw and make guys turn their hands over, it hurts you. Every time you dribble it off your foot or miss an open cutter, it hurts you. Their best player and All-American made shots and our guys didn’t.”
Toussaint, a native of Bronx, N.Y., is in his first year at West Virginia after playing three seasons at Iowa. He believes the Mountaineers are displaying too much passiveness in their ongoing losing streak.
“It’s a matter of taking things. I’ve been a taker all my life. I’m gritty. You guys know where I’m from, so I have to be strong no matter what the situation is,” Toussaint said. “I know I’m going to be strong for my guys. It’s a matter of getting everybody on the same page with me.”
Part of that process, according to Toussaint, is not accepting the poor results from the past week and putting forth extra effort.
While winning 10 of 12 non-conference games before the start of Big 12 play, the Mountaineers hardly looked to be lacking chemistry despite nine of 14 available players not being in the program a season ago.
Now that things have taken a turn for the worse early in Big 12 play, Toussaint says the team must put forth extra effort to turn its season around.
The first opportunity comes Wednesday when West Virginia welcomes Baylor, another team without a Big 12 win to this point.
“I still think we’re as good. A lot of people might look at me crazy. It’s taking an extra step,” Toussaint said. “That comes within you. I’m my own man and he’s his own man [referencing teammate James Okonkwo], but I can’t make him do something he doesn’t want to do. As a team, we have to take a bigger step than what we’re taking right now. That’s all it is. It’s a little bit of hard work. If we do that, I promise you it’ll be a smooth sail.”