For all the highlight reel plays that happen throughout this and other conference tournaments at this time of the year, Wednesday's Big East Championship opening-round snoozer between West Virginia and Providence was the antithesis. At times, the game looked more like a blooper reel than a battle at the highest level of college basketball.
There were missed dunks, ugly turnovers, yipped layups and more muck which left fans inside Madison Square Garden wondering whether they had mistakenly stumbled into the Big 10 tournament.
For West Virginia, the frustrations never reached a panic, but were a thorn in the side of Bob Huggins and company nevertheless. The longer the undermanned Friars hung around, one thought, the more prone the Mountaineers might be to let this one slip away.
For PC, it wouldn't be fair to say that the ugliness was a style of preference, but the slow tempo and low output on either side of the scoreboard certainly kept the Friars in this one longer than either of their first two meetings with West Virginia, both of which resulted in mountain-sized blowouts in favor of the men from Morgantown.
Meeting for the third time in six weeks, there weren't many stones left unturned in either scouting report. For example, West Virginia knew the Friars were dangerous from downtown. Providence, in turn, knew what WVU was likely to try in hopes of defending the perimeter.
"It's hard because they know your tendencies," said West Virginia sophomore forward Wellington Smith. "They tried to play us zone, but we were able to get through the whole game with them doing that."
"Getting through" is a more than apt description of what the Mountaineers did on Wednesday afternoon inside the World's Most Famous Arena. WVU came out cold from the floor, and looked unsettled for a majority of the game. Somehow, some way, the fifth-seeded Mountaineers found enough gusto down the stretch to come out on top.
In essence, the often-spoken madness of March hinges on the ability of teams to simply survive and advance, which is precisely what West Virginia was able to do.
"That's basically it," Smith said. "We played terrible today, but as long as we have another game tomorrow, I'm happy."
In the process, the Mountaineers may have gotten something of a wake-up call.
"I think it will help us," said senior center Jamie Smalligan, who looked to have started a Garden party of sorts for the Mountaineers by calmly sinking a three on the game's opening possession. "Even though we won't have a practice or anything, Coach will bust our butt to make sure we're ready for tomorrow. We're so late in the season that we realize we can't come out flat like that."
Coming out flat ultimately doomed West Virginia in a March 1 game at Connecticut. After sleepwalking through the entire first half and several minutes of the second in Hartford, the Mountaineers awoke to mount a furious rally against Jim Calhoun's Huskies, coming within a point of the lead, but never able to get over the hump. Huggins noted afterward that his players were intimidated by UConn early in that game, and thus spent much of the afternoon contemplating whether or not they even could compete.
By virtue of its win over Providence, WVU will now get a second crack at UConn. And this time, says Smalligan, anything less than an inspired effort from start to finish will be disappointing.
"In the second half (at Connecticut) when we made the run and almost tied it up, that showed us that we could beat them," he said. "We know what we have to do to win, and that's a big part of being prepared going into a game."
A game the Mountaineers now know they will definitely be playing after surviving an opening-round scare in the Big Apple.