'We got out-manned tonight'

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins crouched down near his bench in front of a video board displaying the "Flying WV" logo. His hands were clasped by his knees as the clock ticked to zero. In the second round of the NCAA tournament, I'm sure the veteran head coach would've rather been busy calling our plays and motivating his team. But, he knew it was over.

"It's 18-year olds playing against grown men out there in a lot of instances," Huggins said. "Their guys are exeptional players, and obviously our guys aren't."

His bench sat emotionless like it had for about 35 minutes straight from the point Gonzaga started to pull away.

As the scoreboard reached zero and the horn sounded, seniors Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant gave each other one last hug. Their careers had ended, as both hung their heads after such an embarrassing last performance.

"It's tough knowing that this is my last college game," Jones said. "Life goes on. You've got to move on, and you've got to hope for the best for the returning guys."

WVU, the 10-seed, lost 77-54 to Gonzaga, the seventh-seed, on Thursday in the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. It was the second-largest margin of the defeat to that point in the NCAA tournament, as even Western Kentucky was able to play more effectively against the mighty Kentucky Wildcats earlier in the day.

With that, the Mountaineers' season came to a close in the worst way.

"We got out-manned tonight. They were trying to prove something. That's the hardest they've ever played," Bryant said. "It worked, and it's rough to go out like this in your last game.

"It's rough. I haven't cried all season, but I cried tonight. I love these guys. I just don't want to leave them. I just want to help them."

With more than 16 minutes to play, WVU freshman point guard Gary Browne struggled to understand something Huggins said, which prompted the veteran coach to slam his right foot to the court. The echo could be heard all the way to the rafters, I bet. His red face of fury could, too.

Frustration had set in about two months ago for Huggins, as his team started to regress after taking so many positive steps in the first few months of the season.

In the end, WVU finished its season 4-9, and despite making it to the NCAA tournament got blown out of the Consol Energy Center despite a gold-clad crowd to aid its effort.

"This season was tough on everybody that was returning, because we're used to a certain way of playing. Before, we never had to worry about whether or not we were going to make the tournament or things like that. It's been hard," Jones said.

It was so bad, one fan even tweeted to me asking if he could get a refund. There were jokes about how WVU's football team out-scored the Mountaineers' basketball team in the Orange Bowl, too. Heck, even WVU kicker Tyler Bitancurt hit just as many field goals last season (16) than the Mountaineers' basketball team did on this night.

They were the ugliest and perhaps most telling comments I've ever heard or seen while covering this team.

"Our guys just lost confidence, because they weren't making shots," Jones said. "Me and Truck as leaders did our best to try to get back into the game. Unfortunately that didn't work."

With less than six to play, Gonzaga's Mike Hart hit a dagger three late in the shot clock to the applause of the nearby Zags fans that made the cross-country trip. As the shot floated through the hoop, Bryant's head dropped. His shoulders shrugged. His facial expression read complete and total despair.

It's really hard to come out and lack intensity in the NCAA tournament. It's not a regular season game against a lowly team like Seton Hall or St. John's. No, this one actually means something.

WVU was run out of the building in the first half, as it was nearly doubled up by the hot-shooting Bulldogs.

The Mountaineers shot 23.1 percent and allowed Gonzaga to shoot 50 percent. WVU also went on a more than eight-minute drought in that first 20 minutes. The second 20 minutes were no better.

"We knew they were good. We knew they would make open shots, but I didn't think they'd make every one of them," Browne said. "We just stopped playing. We play like two different teams. It's hard. We stopped playing … We've been practicing so hard on our days off, to let this happen for our state, for our staff, for our fans, it's an embarrassment … I'm really sorry for what happened today. Next season, I can promise that won't happen again."

In the first half, Bryant had zero points, zero rebounds, zero assists, zero steals, zero blocks and one turnover in 17 minutes. He went nearly 24 minutes without a point.

As it has been over the past month, the Mountaineers couldn't seem to get the ball to its best player – second-team all-American Jones. He was as invisible as he's been since about his freshman season on Thursday, and that's just an awful way for a fantastic player and person to finish off his career.

At one point early in the second half, Jones went to freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds to tell him what looked like a pointer to take. Hinds responded with a shoulder shrug.

Even out of the under 12-minute timeout in the second half, Huggins had to scream at freshman forward Keaton Miles for just 10 feet away to inbounds the ball. That possession ended in a turnover.

"This game was a microcosm of our season. This is the worst defensive team I've ever had," Huggins said.

For the first time since 2004, West Virginia failed to win 20 games in a season. Those days of Final Four-type basketball seemed long gone.

"When the lead got to 20, that's when I knew. There's a difference when its in conference play and you're doing that and in primetime," Bryant said.

Now, you have to wonder how much better West Virginia is going to be next season. Jones won't be around. And there's nobody that will compare to his ability – not even highly touted Aaric Murray.

This team doesn't have elite talent, and outside of Browne there isn't a player that is going to out-effort you.

There's a lot of improvement to do. There's a lot of heart and passion that needs to be built.

My mind was nearly set back in December when the Mountaineers were able to play with teams like Baylor and Kansas State that WVU would be even better next year. I have some real doubts about that nearly three months later.

"At the beginning of the season, we would go hard for all three hours of practice," said WVU freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds. "But, this past month, we laid down the past month. We were tired. It came back to hurt us … Coach always told us that we had to fight through it, and I don't think we fought through it as much as he wanted."

Thursday night was a waste, though. It might have sent WVU's program back a ways.

And, it's truly a shame that it's Jones' last game. For a top five player in WVU history, he deserved so much better. Too bad the players around him just couldn't cut it in crunch time.

"I feel really bad for KJ and Truck. I really wanted them to have a great senior year," Browne said. "Next year, we just need to keep playing hard, play like a team and help each other."

Because, in the end, even down by 23 with under eight minutes left, Jones was the one that kept his team's spirits even a pinch above depression. Out of a timeout he went to each of his teammates and either gave them a pat or a hug.

"My mindset is the game is never over until there's triple zeros on the board. We were going to play regardless. Still, I felt the game slipping away at some points," Jones said. "I was just trying to motivate my team. Everybody's heads were going down. Everybody was sulking."

He knew it was over at that point. Everybody in the arena did. Everyone in the nation and across the world knew it, too. But, he kept playing.

The only way this team is better next year is if it learns from Jones, and tries to emulate him as a person and a player in the future.

"It's going to hurt us a lot not having KJ and Truck," Browne said. "We just need to come together and realize that this is a family – our family, our staff, we're all a family. I need to know that we all have our backs."


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