Ugly, But Overdue

Call it what you will: a head-scratcher, a wake-up call, a "flat" performance or any other sports cliche you like. The truth is the thumping West Virginia took at St. John's on Wednesday night was the game everyone was waiting for from the Mountaineers this season.

There was nothing redeeming about the job of work the Mountaineers did in this 78-62 loss to St. John's-- one in which the scoreboard did little to show just how ugly the game truly was.

WVU didn't do anything right. That isn't hyperbole, either.

It didn't defend. Of the 36 points the Red Storm scored in the first half, a staggering 28 came in the paint. St. John's had a 16-point halftime lead -- and only needed to make two field goals outside of the paint in the first half to make it happen.

It didn't score. Players combined to shoot only 25 percent in the first half and 35 percent for the game. Kevin Jones had 26 points, but the rest of the roster combined for only 36.

It didn't value the ball. West Virginia (15-6, 5-3) turned the ball over 10 times in the first half and was outrebounded 23-11 in the same span.

And though there aren't any statistics to quantify it, it was readily apparent to all who watched that the Mountaineers clearly had less energy than St. John's -- a team which came in having lost six of its last seven games, with all but one of those losses coming by 14 or more points.

But in a way, WVU was due for a game this ugly.

Even as Bob Huggins' team reeled off impressive wins in recent weeks, everyone knew the recipe for success for this team required a very specific set of ingredients.

It needs Jones to be spectacular. The stats suggest he was -- 26 points and 12 rebounds -- but much of that didn't come until the outcome was essentially decided.

It needs either Truck Bryant or Deniz Kilicli to be strong offensively as well. The two combined to go only 6-of-17 from the field in this one, with Bryant missing all of his six shots in the first half.

And then it must defend, rebound and take care of the ball. It allowed St. John's to shoot 48.4 percent from the field and win the rebounding battle.

The silver lining, if one could be found in that mess of a performance, is the fact that the loss will matter little in the coming weeks. Other than the effect it will have on WVU's Big East tournament seeding, it's largely meaningless.

Indeed, there is precedent for West Virginia being on the wrong end of some ugly results and still managing to put together a magical end to the season.

The 2005 Mountaineers, who captivated the nation by advancing to the Big East finals and the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, took an 84-46 loss at Villanova on Jan. 4 of that year.

And Huggins-coached teams aren't immune either. During his first season on the bench in Morgantown, WVU infamously fell 62-39 to Cincinnati in a game that became best known as the one and only time Huggins appeared on the sidelines in a mustard yellow suit.

To reiterate, those same teams ultimately advanced to the Elite Eight and Sweet 16 (losing in overtime to Xavier), respectively. All is hardly lost for this group.

But it must absorb some lessons it learned in the hardest way possible on Wednesday night. West Virginia's players have to be consistently great defenders and rebounders. They must play with energy every night.

And it would help if they learned to attack a zone defense, too, before playing at No. 4 Syracuse on Saturday.


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