The rivalry against the Hokies had been a good one, with both games since the series was renewed two years ago being decided by five points or less, and it’s always easy to get up for a game like that. Then there’s the story of Virginia Tech’s head coach – Buzz Williams.
The former Marquette head coach danced while walking across the Flying WV logo at midcourt following his last time in Morgantown, when his Golden Eagles beat the Mountaineers 61-60. It was an incident that West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said he doesn’t remember, but stood out in the memories of the players who are still on at WVU who were on the team that lost that game.
And, of course, probably the biggest thing they remembered, the biggest chip on the Mountaineers’ shoulders heading into Tuesday’s matinee sellout at the Coliseum, was the fact that last year’s game ended with the Mountaineers walking off the floor with an 87-82 loss at the hands of a Virginia Tech team that had trailed by as many as 17 points for stretches in the second half.
“Their RPI is like No. (264) or something like that. Teams like that, we can’t let that happen,” said WVU senior guard Gary Browne after the game. “From last year to this year, that’s a big difference in the game. That was really a game that ruined our season last year.”
This year, it looked like there was a chance that the same type of game could possibly happen. A much-improved WVU team was having some trouble against an inferior Virginia Tech team, making as many mistakes as it was forcing its opponent to make. The result at the end of the first half saw the Mountaineers head to the locker room having forced 12 turnovers, but leading by just three points after allowing the Hokies to shoot 55 percent from the field while WVU turned the ball over 10 times and made only three of its 13 attempts from beyond the arc.
Then in the second half, led by Browne and fellow senior guard Juwan Staten, the Mountaineers took control. West Virginia made 64 percent of its shots in the game’s final 20 minutes and used its defense to create 13 turnovers that turned into 24 points.
Just like that, the game got out of hand, and the Mountaineers strolled their way to an emphatic 82-51 victory.
It’s yet another sign of how far this team has come. It ended the non-conference schedule with a 12-1 record, and its only blemish on that record coming to an LSU team that is 9-2 and has climbed to No. 21 in the RPI.
As opposed to the last few season, West Virginia didn’t lose one of those fluky games that it shouldn’t have lost. There was no Virginia Tech game from last season, or Duquesne or Kent State from the two years before that.
For the most part, this team took care of business. And it did so by showing the toughness, selflessness and overall hard work that has been absent the last two years.
The bumps in the road the Mountaineers hit, they were able to work through them. You saw the strides this team has made Tuesday against the Hokies, and they’re ready to show that they’ve gotten even better when the Big 12 teams start to come to town.
But for now, as far as they’re concerned, the record is 0-0. Just like they did in non-conference play, they have to prove themselves all over again.
And this WVU team, more than any other in the three years West Virginia has been in the Big 12, is going to be able to do that.