Warts And All, WVU A Winner

West Virginia might be inexperienced at key positions and prone to make mistakes at critical times, but even its youngest players already have the personality of their head coach: they are scrappy, they are tenacious and they find ways to win.

The Mountaineers' 85-80 win over Kansas State on Thursday night was a prime example.

There was no lack of ugliness. Guard play was downright abysmal in stretches. Freshmen Gary Browne and Jabarie Hinds frequently looked as confused as deer staring into headlights. Players battled foul trouble. They made simple mistakes.

Veterans made crucial errors and gave K-State easy baskets at inopportune times. The whole team continued to make foul shots look like contested half-court heaves, again managing only 18 made free throws on 31 attempts.

Even simply holding the ball after a defensive rebound without traveling was an adventure at times, with Deniz Kilicli giving away possession twice -- both in pivotal moments -- in somewhat embarrassing fashion.

But by game's end, none of those things were the main topic of conversation. And with good reason.

Instead, the story of this game was the team's only three veterans giving nearly Herculean efforts. Kevin Jones, Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli combined for 66 of WVU's 85 points, with the latter two playing the majority of the overtimes with four fouls each.

This was about timely contributions from players all over the roster. Jones made a critical 3-pointer in the waning seconds of regulation to send it to overtime. Freshman Aaron Brown netted a trifecta of his own late in the first extra session to give his team a lead it needed, as the Wildcats' Rodney McGruder made a floater to force double OT.

Brown added his team's first four points in the second extra frame. Kevin Noreen played pivotal minutes on defense in regulation. Browne, despite his struggles early, ran the offense better as the game wore on.

And that must be the most satisfying part of this win for West Virginia: it was a team effort, and one that came in a tough situation.

Forget the fact this will be scored a "neutral" site game: it was a road game even though it was played in Wichita. Mountaineer players didn't get to bed until 3:30 a.m. Eastern time after multiple travel delays on Thursday. Reserve Pat Forsythe was held out of action due to back spasms, according to West Virginia Media Holdings.

"We fought through some things," coach Bob Huggins told the Mountaineer Sports Network afterwards.

They fought in a style typical of a Huggins-coached team. Yes, they committed 18 turnovers, but they also forced 18. They earned a stalemate on the glass. And with the game in the balance, they made clutch shots in the waning minutes.

And as a reward, the Mountaineers earned a significant potential boost to their NCAA Tournament resume.

Should Huggins mold this young team into a participant in that event, it would be perhaps his finest coaching job in his tenure at his alma mater. And while the road ahead is long and uncertain, Thursday's game had to reassure the Mountaineers that their coach knows what he is doing.

After all, they came out winners in spite of themselves.

BlueGoldNews Top Stories