The college basketball season is almost always full of peaks and valleys for teams and players. For Da'Sean Butler, perhaps no valley was deeper than the one he found himself in on Monday night in Pittsburgh. The junior forward entered WVU's game at the Petersen Events Center on a tear, having scored at least 20 points in six of his seven previous games.
Against Pitt, though, it was clear from the beginning that Butler flat out didn't have it on a night when the Mountaineers probably needed one of his tip-top performances if they had a chance at dethroning the fourth-rated Panthers.
Offensively, the normally-reliable forward was out of whack early and often, missing his first seven shots from the field, many of which weren't even close to going in. On the other end of the court, Butler had trouble containing Pitt standout Sam Young, and picked up two early fouls which forced him to the bench for the rest of the half.
Even when he returned to the floor in the second half, the results weren't much better. Young continued to have his way when Pitt had the ball. When Butler and the Mountaineers were on offense, the struggles continued. When he went to the bench for good after fouling out at with just under four minutes to play, Butler's final numbers were: two-of-12 from the field, zero-of-seven from three-point range, four points with no rebounds and nary a free throw attempt to his name.
Afterward, he stayed in the locker room until the assembled media had moved on from the adjacent hallway. The normally-jovial Butler had nothing to say. After all, his play had said plenty for him.
Just who was that imposter wearing the No. 1 jersey for WVU?
""I don't know," Butler said later in the week. "He sucked, though. He was terrible. He was bad and I never want to see him again."
While one bad game does not a career make, this was different. Everyone, of course, has an off scoring night from time to time, and even with his high productivity for much of the season, it's certainly understandable that the same thing would happen to Da'Sean. Perhaps more alarming than the meager four-point total he managed against Pitt was the fact that he did not attempt a foul shot or grab a rebound. Entering the game, he led the team in free throw attempts and was second in rebounding to Devin Ebanks.
Injury was added to insult on Thursday when, during a box-out drill in the first hour of practice, Butler turned an ankle. Had he not taped both of his ankles prior to practice for extra support, the injury likely would have forced him out of Friday night's pivotal home game against streaking Villanova, winners of six straight and ranked No. 13 in the country.
Round-the-clock attention, ice and rest left Butler at about 70 percent when he arrived at the Coliseum for the 9:00 PM tip-off with the Wildcats. Once the game started, adrenaline took over.
Just as it was clear from the outset of the Pitt game that Butler didn't have it, the opposite held true on Friday night. By the mid-way mark of the first half, Butler already had 10 points, more than twice his final total against the Panthers. As the Mountaineers continued to break Villanova's full-court pressure, Butler continued to be the beneficiary of a one and sometimes two-man advantage on the fast break.
When WVU entered the locker room with an 18-point halftime lead, Butler already had 24 points, just four shy of his career-high set against Miami of Ohio earlier this season. It goes without saying that the ankle was OK.
Not even the halftime break could cool down Butler, who kept it going in the final frame. With West Virginia leading by 17 late in the game, Butler got the ball on the wing. Everyone in the gym knew the ball was going up. And, with the way he had been shooting all night long, most figured it was going in. Even so, that didn't stop the adoring Coliseum crowd from going nuts when the ball splashed through the net, making Butler the first WVU player since Lowes Moore to get at least 40 points in a game. Moore did so against Notre Dame in 1978.
"I kept telling (my teammates) not to give me the ball," Butler admitted. "But Alex (Ruoff) and Devin (Ebanks) were both like, ‘Go for it. Go for 40. We're giving you the ball.' I just kept going after the ball and getting more shots."
The timing of the game on ESPN made it the lead-in to SportsCenter. Those who hadn't been watching the Worldwide Leader for the whole night were taken on an abbreviated tour of Butler's big game at the top of the show, even with NBA All-Star Weekend already in full swing.
"I always wanted to have a big game, especially on ESPN with family watching and the guys commentating on the game and things like that," Butler said. "The situation really never came, but tonight the shots were falling and everything just kept going in."