Exhibiting Problems

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins worried he had "over-scheduled" his young team with a tough slate at the beginning of the season. He couldn't possibly have meant that in reference to the Mountaineers' exhibition game. Northern Kentucky's Eshaunte Jones hit a 3-pointer with 1.1. seconds left and the Norse beat WVU 77-74 at the Coliseum on Friday.

Officially, the game didn't count. But the disappointment of the 7,288 in attendance, the urgency in guard Truck Bryant's voice and the sadness of that of Kevin Jones (whose head hung low during his entire postgame interview session with reporters) were all very much real.

Those emotions were understandable. Despite the late heroics from NKU's Jones, this was no fluke. The Division II Norse were simply better from start to finish. They led for all by as many as 17 points, didn't trail for the final 37:27 and were downright dominant in stretches.

"We let a team come out in front of our home crowd and outwork us," WVU's Jones said. "That never happens."

Yes, Huggins' club was without the services of junior forward Deniz Kilicli, who sat out with a knee injury. Kilicli should be fine for WVU's true season-opener against Oral Roberts next Friday, the head coach said.

"I know this: they had a very important guy sitting on the bench that didn't play, and he would have been a handful for us," NKU coach Dave Bezold said.

But that was little consolation on a night it took a desperate late rally for West Virginia to come as close as it did.

The hosts trailed by 16 early in the second half but slowly worked to claw back within reach. They still were behind by nine when Northern Kentucky's Tony Rack drilled his sixth 3-pointer with 3:43 to play to make it 73-64.

But the Mountaineers' seniors, Bryant and Jones, tried to lead their young teammates back to victory. Jones sandwiched a layup and a put-back around a tip-in from freshman Aaron Brown to draw within 73-70. Bryant hit one of two free throws, and it was 73-71 with 35.1 seconds left.

West Virginia had to foul, and it sent NKU's Jones, a Nebraska transfer, to the line. He made one of his two foul shots to up the margin to three again.

Freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds attempted to drive to the basket for a quick two, but his scooping layup was well short. A scrum ensued for the loose ball, and officials ruled a Norse player had pushed the ball out of bounds.

That gave Huggins a chance to call timeout and set up a play. Not surprisingly, he put the ball in the hands of Bryant -- one of his two seniors -- who sank a game-tying 3-pointer with two defenders in close proximity with only 6.3 seconds left.

It was too much time. WVU's defense, which had significant issues all night, allowed NKU's Jones to dribble down the floor without so much as having to change direction. He pulled up for a long trifecta with a hand in his face, but the shot went in, causing the Coliseum crowd to groan.

Gary Browne's desperation heave was nowhere close to the basket -- and may have come after the horn anyway. Northern Kentucky players and coaches, including former West Virginia star Darris Nichols, ran out onto the court in jubilation.

"I was proud of our guys to be able to continue to respond," Bezold said.

The contest got out of hand quickly in the first half, with the Norse building a double-digit lead in the first 8:00. That led Huggins to search desperately for a lineup that worked, as the head coach played all six of his true freshmen in the first 9:15 of the contest.

It didn't help. The NKU lead grew to as many as 17 points when Rack (who was a staggering 6-of-7 from 3-point range) hit one from beyond the arc to make it 42-25 with 2:30 before halftime.

West Virginia drew within 13 by halftime, but never truly had momentum.

"You've heard me say for 12 years now, I think you have to be not the most intelligent person to have to lose to learn," Huggins said. "I don't know why you can't win and learn, or go to practice and learn. You would think intelligent people would do that."

Northern Kentucky, which led by five at halftime against Marshall on Tuesday before losing by 10, shot 54 percent from the field, including 52 percent (13-of-25) from 3-point range.

"We didn't do a very good job of guarding, and we don't think through things very well," Huggins said.

Rack led the way for the victors with 21 points and four assists without committing a turnover. Eshaunte Jones added 15 more, including the game-winner.

Bryant (24 points) and Kevin Jones (22) led WVU. Browne and Hinds, the team's two freshmen at point guard, also were in double figures with 11 and 10, respectively. The other seven Mountaineers who saw action combined to tally only seven, with four of those coming from Tommie McCune.


BlueGoldNews Top Stories