Huggins Frustrated Again

As the time wound down on the Mountaineer men's basketball season, the expression on the faces of the WVU players told a story that had often been repeated this year.

The chants of "Go Home Mountaineers" filled the small confines of Georgetown's McDonough Center Tuesday night as an exclamation point on the Hoyas' 77-65 first round NIT victory. And those in the blue and gold were exasperated by yet another loss.

The defeat at the hands of its former Big East rivals had been seen regularly by WVU this season. West Virginia had some shining moments, like when it built 33-28 lead shortly before halftime.

But in the final 20:03, West Virginia lacked the inside strength, the defensive fortitude, the powerful rebounds and simply the toughness to win a game when its shooting touch goes awry.

When the Mountaineers' perimeter shooting was on the mark, they've proven they can beat anyone – Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State being the prime examples.

But without its offense in high gear, WVU simply doesn't rebound well enough and doesn't defend well enough to beat decent opponents. The Hoyas aren't the Jayhawks or Cyclones this year, but they certainly played well enough to send West Virginia into the offseason.

After hitting 54.4 percent of their shots in the first half (12-of-22), the Mountaineers managed to make just 37 percent (10-of-27) over the course of the second half.

Meanwhile, it was the exact opposite on the other end. Whether it was a better-than-usual West Virginia defense or a misfiring Georgetown offense, the fact is the Hoyas managed to convert only 37 percent in the first half (10-of-27), while making 52 percent the second (13-of-25). GU also controlled the rebounding in the second half, collecting 20 boards in the final 20 minutes compared to 13 for WVU. West Virginia actually had a slim 16-14 lead in the rebounding category in the first half, but in the second half, it got just one second-chance point.

Meanwhile Georgetown kept possession after possession alive with offensive rebounds in the second half, using second chances to make a decisive run in the second half, pushing a tight 53-49 lead midway through the period into a comfortable 68-51 bulge eight minutes later.

"It's been the deal the whole year," noted a frustrated WVU head coach Bob Huggins said of his team's defensive and rebounding woes, as West Virginia ended the season with a 17-16 record. "Remi Dibo goes 0-for-7 (from three-point range), and Eron Harris goes 2-for-7 (from three). When that happens, we're not going to win. We're simply not going to win. I hate saying that, and I hate it being that way, but we just don't guard well enough that we can afford to not make shots. We certainly let other people make them. Remi had great looks, but he didn't make any, and they did a good job on Eron."

And with the press conference over, Huggins pulled himself up from the chair in McDonough Arena media room and headed out into the warm Washington, D.C. night.

This season is over, but without a senior on the squad – the first time in 65 years that is the case for a WVU men's basketball team – Huggins hopes brighter days are to come. But he, more than anyone, knows that some large steps that must be made before the Mountaineers are just a brief line on the NIT bracket.

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