Full Circle

If you're looking for a day that may have been a sign of things to come for John Beilein's basketball program during his first season, perhaps there is no better starting point than the final game of the year.

That day, March 12 2003, the Mountaineers were waxed by an experienced Providence squad in the opening round of the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. On the surface, it may just look like a 23-point loss to a superior team. But for this group of seniors, and coach Beilein, it was a little more than that.

"I remember my dad telling us after that game that their team had been where we were just three years prior," said Patrick Beilein. "We took that to heart, and we listened to him. We stuck with it and that helped us grow."

That 2002-2003 season laid the groundwork for what could end up being one of the greatest two year runs in Mountaineer basketball history. The Mountaineers may not have finished with a winning record, but they gained invaluable experience, even in lopsided losses.

"I think we showed signs of (being good) during my freshman year, but we just didn't know how to close games," recalled point guard J.D. Collins. "We had Notre Dame beaten here. We were 8-2 going into the conference schedule, and we just didn't know how to win close games yet. Now, we know how to close it out."

Take the most recent Providence game, for instance. The Mountaineers had one of their worst shooting performances of the season, and never got in a rhythm on the offensive end of the floor. Still, they managed to win by 16 points and were never in danger of losing the game.

"It just shows how much we've grown as a team, and as players," said Kevin Pittsnogle, who turned in a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds in Tuesday night's win over the Friars. "Every year we've gotten better. Three years ago, we would have lost to them by 30 playing like we did tonight. Tonight we didn't shoot well, but we still played good defense and still won the game."

For the Mountaineers, Tuesday night's win over Providence was a complete role reversal of what happened in the Garden that first season. This time, it was the Blue and Gold who had the overwhelming edge in experience, just like the Friars did in 2003. However, beating Providence by 16 points this season is in no way a win of revenge for that Big East Tournament loss.

"I guess the biggest satisfaction was last season when we beat them in the first round of the Big East tournament," admitted Joe Herber. "This time it was probably a little bit of a different situation because not many of their current players were on that team from our freshman year. But I do think that it's maybe a little bit of a recurring theme lately that we've beaten teams that we hadn't beaten before. Hopefully that will continue later this season."

For the Friars, there are plenty of positives to come out of the loss to West Virginia. After the game, Mountaineer players were quick to point out that Tim Welsh's club will only improve over the next several seasons.

"We have already experienced the things that Providence's freshman are experiencing now," said Collins.

"They're going to surprise some people this year, because they have a lot of talent," predicted Pittsnogle. "I'm sure that they were thinking the exact same thing tonight that we were then. They were probably thinking ‘they may have gotten us tonight, but we're going to get them down the road.' They're going to be a good team for the next few years."

By no means was the win over Providence among the most important for the 2005-2006 Mountaineers. From a symbolic point of view though, it was a reminder of just how far these seniors and this program have come in four years.

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