The Mountaineers found themselves without Browne and Juwan Staten, the two senior point guards who had led them the entire season and were honored with an emotional ceremony Saturday prior to the start of West Virginia's regular season home finale against Oklahoma State. The Bears ran over the Mountaineers with ease, as WVU looked a bit out of sorts after being forced to thrust its freshmen and other reserve guards into a bigger role than they were used to.
But shortly after that game, the team held a meeting. The players talked and realized that this doesn't have to be the thing that finishes their season. As the saying goes, when the going gets tough the tough have to get going - and the Mountaineers decided it was time to move forward and try to finish the year on the right note and head into Big 12 play with some momentum and move into the postseason ready to make some noise.
"After that Baylor game we looked at who was going to be there the rest of the season and we came to the conclusion that we just have to take care of our business," said freshman forward Elijah Macon. "We have to keep going as if they're still playing and nothing has changed. We just have to do what we need to do."
Things slowly started to come around against Kansas, although West Virginia still lost to the Jayhawks. The Mountaineers struggled to do the little things down the stretch in one of the most intimidating road environments in college basketball - one that can be even more intimidating than usual when you're dealing with underclassmen who haven't been through it before. But even with the loss, there were still some things the Mountaineers saw in that one that they could take as a positive.
But Saturday against the Cowboys, things came together more. West Virginia did what it needed to do and took care of business against a team that it needed to beat to close out the regular season.
This didn't come as a surprise to the team though, and it really shouldn't to many others.
Even though the Mountaineers lost two seniors, these guys have been playing a lot all season - and sometimes without Staten and Browne on the floor. At the end of the day, this is a group that has played together a lot. They've embraced the "next man up" mentality and have thrived all year based on the fact that even though their five best might not be better than the five across from them, their 10 or 11 would be able to get the job done better than their opponents.
We saw that Saturday against Oklahoma State as we got a glimpse of what next year's West Virginia squad would look like. And they're going to have to keep that momentum going if they want to finish the job and accomplish the goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the year.
"We've got what we need in ourselves. We grew up in tough environments, we've dealt with adversity and we love the game of basketball," said freshman guard Daxter Miles. "We're showing everyone that we're pretty good at basketball, and once the two leaders went down we knew what we had to do. We have to bring more to the table so we can get this done."