Special Day

Senior Day gives rise to a welter of emotions, and not just from those players who have likely participated in their last game on the floor of their home venue.

For West Virginia's seniors, Saturday's 76-58 win over Rutgers was an afternoon to remember, and not just for the fact that the Mountaineers went out victorious on their special day. Each of WVU's three departing players achieved a milestone or had a special moment during the game.

D'or Fischer's spot in the sun came with 11:14 to go in the first half, when he rejected a shot by Rutgers' Manny Quezada to become the Mountaineers' career blocked shots leader. (Remember that name – it will be a great trivia question.) The block, Fischer's 179th in a little less than two seasons in a West Virginia uniform, was a classic D'or swat, in which he slid down the lane and leaped high to reject the shot attempt into the stands.

"To be able to do that on Senior Day was special. I love it when people attack the basket, because I love to block shots, and when they come in there I get more chances," Fischer said. "And the more shots I block the happier I am."

As Fischer's career feat was announced over the public address system during the next timeout, the animated senior stepped out of the huddle to acknowledge the cheers from the crowd. And while that might have appeared as if he was ignoring his team for the moment, it was, in reality, a move to make sure the fans knew he appreciated their support.

"I was here for two years and made an impact, and the only thing I wish is that I could have been here for four years," Fischer said when asked if he had any regrets or things he would do over. "I love the state of West Virginia and the fans. There are no fans like them."

Joining Fischer in the spotlight was Tyrone Sally, who joined the 1,000 point club in the game and punctuated his home career with his signature move – a drive to the basket and a finger roll that dropped softly through the hoop. It was a perfect home ending to Sally's tumultuous career at West Virginia, one that has been well-chronicled as he comes down the stretch of his final season. However, even though he's reviewed his career several times over the past week, he still came up with a new slant after the game.

"I learned that you can't run away from your problems," Sally said of his biggest lesson learned at West Virginia. "They will follow you if you do that. You have to face them up and handle them like a man. That's the biggest thing I learned – how to make those tough decisions. It's a great accomplishment for me [to finish my career here]. With all the things I've been through, I have to take my hat off to myself. Things were so tough sometimes I didn't know what to do, but I stuck with it, and now during my senior year it's all come together. Everything was perfect tonight."

Again, those words may sound a bit boastful, but that's certainly not the way they were intended. And even if they were, so what? It would have been so easy for Sally to transfer, but he didn't. He stayed with his school, and was a major factor in the rebuilding of the Mountaineer program. From an 8-20 disaster to the NIT to the threshold of the NCAAs in three seasons is an amazing turnaround, and Sally deserves every pat on the back and lifting of the hat that comes his way. WVU fans owe him a big debt of gratitude, and he has every right to look back on his career with pride.

Not know for his display of emotions anywhere, the reticent Sally finally broke a smile out as WVU took control of the contest with a few minutes to go. Seeing Sally play with a smile on his face was a strange sight, so used as we are to seeing him with a calm expression as he competes.

"It was a great moment," he said of the events that finally caused his emotions to come out. "I was just trying to soak it all up and have fun and enjoy my last minutes playing here. Being out there with my coaches and teammates and the relationships I've had with them, D'or getting the record, me getting a thousand, Juice scoring -- it was just a great moment. I couldn't ask for anything better."

"Juice" of course, is Duriel Price, the emotional center of the team. With mostly quiet senior teammates, Price was the most outspoken and talkative fourth-year player on the team, and his approach to the game set a great example, even though his game time was limited. He's the kind of player everyone roots for, which explains the outburst of jubilation from the bench when he hit a rather unconventional shot in the lane for WVU's final points.

"Juice is an important a part of this team as anyone else," Sally said of his extroverted teammate. "Everyone was happy that he scored on Senior Day, but we were all checking his pockets for a rabbit's foot."

As the seniors were taken out of the game one by one to receive a final ovation (yet another outstanding and classy move by head coach John Beilein) thoughts of next year's Senior Day were running through the mind of junior Patrick Beilein.

"I was thinking about what it will be like next year," Beilein said of his thought process. "It's gone by pretty fast. This is probably my last home game here as a junior, and I only have one more year to go. I'm sure it's going to be emotional for me."

Before that gets here, however, there's more work to be done, starting with Saturday's game at Seton Hall, the Big East tournament, and postseason play. And if all the underclassmen are looking for the proper going away gift for their senior teammates, well, what could be better than an invitation to the Big Dance?

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