After seven games in a row of not getting a win in a postseason tournament that stretched throughout four conference tournament, two NCAA tournament and an NIT game over the five seasons, West Virginia finally got the monkey off its back Friday in Columbus as the Mountaineers beat Buffalo, 68-62, to advance into the Round of 32 of the NCAA tournament. And as WVU fought tooth and nail to hold on to the win after leading by as many as 13 points in the game, it was another sign of where this team has come from since the last few years.
“We weren’t going to let ourselves lose,” said freshman Daxter Miles. “Every team is going to play hard and put it all on the line at this time of year, but we’re stubborn. We’re not going to allow those things to happen.”
But in order for this team to end that streak, they had to put it behind them first.
To be able to have the success they felt they deserved to have, West Virginia came into this year with a completely different roster and a totally different outlook on how their season was going to be able to go.
“This is a new season. We can’t think about what went wrong before because that doesn’t do anything for you,” said senior guard Gary Browne – the only Mountaineer to play in an NCAA tournament game before Friday’s win. “We don’t talk about any of that stuff, we only talk about this season and all of the things that we can accomplish as a team right now, because that’s all that matters.”
For West Virginia, a team coached by Bob Huggins who has told the story over and over about how he doesn’t live life with a rearview mirror and doesn’t love to look back at things that happened in the past or things that could have been if a few things went his way, this doesn’t seem like an impossible task to be able to accomplish. But after coming close long enough but never breaking through that ceiling, it can get difficult to keep fighting through.
At least that would have been the case the last few seasons.
But this group has adopted its head coach’s personality in the best possible way. They’re hard-nosed, tough, physical and hungrier than ever now that they’ve gotten a taste of success in the postseason.
“When you have a bunch of guys who care that’s going to happen,” Browne said. “When you have the qualities that we have, you’re not going to go wrong. You’re always going to be able to have a chance.”
And just because they’ve gotten their first little taste of success at this stage of the season, it doesn’t mean they’re ready to call it a day just yet. They want to stick around a little while longer. As far as they’re concerned, their work is just getting started.
“This is just the first step. We’ve got five more to go,” Miles said. “We’re trying to go all the way. We won’t be happy until we get there.
“We want to be a team the whole nation remembers.”