Turning Point?

In some of West Virginia's most successful seasons, you can point to a game or time when the Mountaineers turned the corner. Was Thursday night's 17-point shellacking of Georgetown that moment for this particular WVU team?

It goes without saying that few saw West Virginia's 75-58 drubbing of Georgetown coming. That's not to say that nobody believed the Mountaineers could win. On the contrary, they're good enough defensively to beat any team on the schedule.

In this manner, though? Grabbing the lead for good with 10 minutes to go in the first half and never looking back? Outclassing a team many consider to be one of the top four in the deep and talented Big East? And on its home court to boot? Not even the most optimistic of WVU fans could have seen that coming.

As for the players? They were confident heading into the game for a variety of reasons. For one, they were 13-4 entering the game, with the only losses in conference play coming to a pair of top 10 teams.

"We won the past two games after losing a few," said point guard Darryl Bryant. "We felt good. We came in with a lot of confidence ready to win some more games."

On the other hand, they hadn't played all that well in either of those two wins, giving up 53 second-half points to Marshall last Wednesday in Charleston and squeaking by woeful South Florida on Saturday at the Coliseum. Part of the reason for those less-than-impressive wins was the fact that in both games, West Virginia got up big early and let down its guard, allowing both the Thundering Herd and the Bulls to crawl back into games they had no business competing in.

On Thursday night, the Mountaineers made it a point to not let up. This was apparent not only in the way that they responded to Georgetown's second-half run, but in the way that – with the outcome well in hand – they continued to play hard as if it were a close game.

"We just wanted to keep a swagger," said junior forward Da'Sean Butler, who tallied a game-high 27 points on 11-18 shooting. "You know, we really didn't have that before, especially in the past few games where we've come out and got a big lead and then let it die. We kind of made a promise to ourselves in practice that we weren't going to do that; we were going to push it. We got a lead and we kept driving, kept pushing instead of being lax and letting things happen."

Over the past several years as WVU basketball has grown into a March Madness fixture, you can point to moments in most of those seasons that served as turning points. For example, in 2005, Kevin Pittsnogle's last-minute starting nod and subsequent 27-outburst against Pitt in early February proved to be the spark that set a two-year run in motion.

Last season, Joe Alexander's coming out party over the final few weeks of the regular season propelled the Mountaineers from a possible bubble team to a Big East semifinalist and tournament lock.

Might Thursday night's road win over the No. 14 Hoyas, prove to be a similar catalyst this season?

"Hopefully, man," Butler admitted. "I don't want people to feel like this is never going to happen again. Hopefully, it will be (a turning point). Hopefully everything will go according to plan and we'll win out. If not, we'll still keep playing hard."

Under the direction of Bob Huggins, West Virginia's goals are far more ambitious than simply doing well enough to get into the NCAA tournament. The Mountaineers want to be amongst the Big East's elite at the end of every year.

"We want to compete for the league title, and we're not going to do that by starting out 2-2," said senior guard Alex Ruoff. "This was a huge win for us that we needed."

Of course one game does not a season make. With No. 4 Pitt coming to the Coliseum on Sunday, WVU has little time to pat itself on the back for Thursday night's effort. Trips to ranked foes Louisville and Syracuse also occur in the next two weeks.

This year more than any other, the road to the top of the Big East is long and treacherous. WVU still must find a way to consistently score the ball with someone other than Butler or Ruoff. It must continue to find ways to overcome size deficiencies in virtually every game.

"This was a big win and we'll build on this, but we still have mistakes," Ruoff noted. "We've got to help Da'Sean score points. There's a lot to build on. This is a confidence booster, definitely.

Still, if West Virginia can find its way back to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, you might be able to point back to Thursday night's game as the turning point for these Mountaineers.

"I hope so," Ruoff said. "Like you said, you can't get overconfident, but I think we can (make another run). We're going to practice a little bit better and we're just going to keep getting better."


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