NEW YORK - It would be easy to make too much out of West Virginia's abysmal performance Wednesday night against St. John's at Madison Square Garden.It was one lousy night in a 31-game season. There haven't been that many.By the same token, though, it would be far too easy to make too little of the deed.It once again illustrated perfectly the flaws this team possesses and some of the virtues it does not.
Coach Bob Huggins sits in the latter camp, of course. He's not likely to look at a 78-62 defeat to the youngest and most in-disarray team in the Big East and just chalk it up as an anomaly. It's not in his nature."It's not an anomaly,'' Huggins said. "We got our butts kicked. They were better than us.''As far as anomalies go, however, for the sake of getting beyond the loss, perhaps it would be better if the Mountaineers treated it as such.And so most of them hope to do just that."You have to forget it and learn from it,'' senior guard Truck Bryant said. "You learn from what you did that you can't let it happen again.''In other words, don't dwell on it, but don't just dismiss it, either.
Again, though, the fact is that while games like that happen over the course of a long season, when they happen to that degree it is alarming. Every flaw the Mountaineers have was exposed in a sort of perfect storm of ineptitude. This is a team that has no consistent perimeter shooting threats and is so young that if things begin going against them they haven't the maturity to overcome it and prevent things from snowballing.Combine that with what appeared right from the start to be a lack of seriousness regarding the opponent and it was a recipe for disaster."Our energy was terrible. It looked like we didn't want to be there,'' Bryant said. "And we paid for that. We paid for that early. They came out and made shots. And usually they're not a team that makes shots.''Indeed, St. John's was the worst shooting team in the Big East, making just 42 percent of its field goals through the first 19 games of the season. Against West Virginia the Red Storm shot 48.4 percent, but there was a reason for that: West Virginia gave them easy shots.In fact, in the game's first 15 minutes, when the Johnnies were taking control, they made not a single jump shot. It was almost comical how poorly they shot, missing their first nine non-layups and even misfiring on five others around the basket. Yet it was 25-16 and St. John's had six layups, three follow-ups, two dunks and three free throws. By game's end there would be 31 field goals - four 3-pointers, four jump shots of no more than 10 feet and a staggering 23 layups, follow shots or dunks.
Meanwhile, West Virginia, which lives off of doing exactly that, couldn't against the St. John's zone, which collapsed on anyone with the ball inside and forced turnovers and jump shots that the Mountaineers didn't make.
Can the same thing happen again? Of course it can. It already happened once at Seton Hall and could easily repeat itself right away when the Mountaineers play Saturday at No. 3 Syracuse, which plays an even better zone than St. John's and can also victimize a team inside, with or without Fab Melo.That's why this team has to forget what happened Wednesday night at the Garden as quickly as possible. It has to learn something from the loss, but it can't go to Syracuse with shaken confidence."It's a loss and now you can't do anything about it,'' said freshman guard Jabarie Hinds. "You've just got to get back in the gym and get ready for Syracuse.''Kevin Jones pretty much agreed."I think a game like this you try to get it as far away from you as possible,'' Jones said. "We know we're a better team than this, but it's hard when you've got a lot of young guys because they have a tendency to get real down on themselves, especially when Coach says certain things. But that's the way Coach is. As they get older they'll learn how to filter that out and see what the real meaning of what he's saying is.''
Not that Huggins didn't have every right to lay into his team."When you spend an entire timeout going over the 1-3-1 because nothing else was working, and then after an entire timeout you've got three guys in the 1-3-1 and two guy who aren't, they really aren't into what you're doing,'' Huggins said.Part of the problem, though, was simply an off night. In the first half, when the game was pretty much decided, Jones and Bryant were each 2-for-7 shooting and combined for five turnovers. By game's end Jones had recovered and had 26 points, 14 rebounds and shot 10-for-21. But Bryant and Hinds were a combined 7-for-25, Aaron Brown - usually good for a clutch shot or two - was 0-for-4 and Deniz Kilicli was doubled so much he could get just four shots.Huggins even tried Paul Williamson, he of the 7-for-10 3-point shooting this season, and he wasn't even close on two shots, one of them from a step behind the NBA 3-point line on the Garden floor. He even tried Tommie McCune, who had played all of six Big East minutes and was 1-for-14 shooting this season. He bricked a 3-pointer roughly 10 seconds after he hit the floor and was out at the next dead ball.It was Bryant's struggles, though, that were most damaging because he has to set the tone. But it's hard for Huggins to blame him."Truck's had really good games and Truck's had not-so-good games,'' Huggins said. "It's almost unfair to Truck to a degree because he's really our only perimeter threat and I think he feels the pressure to make some shots."I told Truck and K.J. that they can't be bad and expect us to win. Truck was bad against Cincinnati and we still won, but he can't consistently be bad and us win.''And when everyone else is just as bad, things like Wednesday night's thumping happen. It would be best if the Mountaineers just forgot it ever happened.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org