MORGANTOWN - If it seems like Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant are joined at the hip after four years in West Virginia's basketball program, know that there is more to it than the fact that they have combined to make 219 starts over that span.They've also been roommates for the duration."There's never a dull day living with Truck,'' Jones said Monday.There is seldom a dull moment when the two are on the floor together, either, be it Bryant's roller-coaster performances (34 points one game this month at Providence and then zero against Notre Dame) or Jones' amazing consistency (Big East bests in scoring and rebounding average this season).
But after four years, 92 wins and three NCAA tournament appearances, the end is growing near. The two play what could be their final game at the Coliseum tonight when West Virginia (17-11, 7-9 Big East) hosts DePaul (11-17, 2-14). Tip-off is at 7 p.m. and the game will be televised by the Big East Network (Root Sports Pittsburgh).After all those games and all the wins - an average of 23 per season - Jones and Bryant find themselves, naturally, dotting West Virginia's record books and Top 10 lists. Both are 1,500-point scorers who rank in the school's Top 20. Jones is only the third Mountaineer with 1,500 points and 1,000 rebounds. Bryant could become only the third to have 1,500 points and 400 assists if he gets 16 more assists.One or both are on just about every list there is, from scoring, rebounding, assists, blocked shots, steals, games and minutes played, games started; the list is nearly endless."I was looking at WVUStats.com the other day and just going through there and we're everywhere,'' Bryant said. "It's pretty cool.''What would be even better, though, would be if over the course of the next two weeks, Jones and Bryant helped make sure that tonight's game is the last they play at the Coliseum. Nothing against playing at home, but another game would mean the Mountaineers would be relegated to the NIT instead of the NCAA tournament.
And neither wants that."Yeah, we've got some unfinished business,'' Jones said. "You don't want to go out the way we've been playing lately.''In order to insure a fourth straight NCAA trip for the pair - and a fifth straight overall for West Virginia - the Mountaineers have to turn things around quickly. After losing seven of the last nine games, time is running out. WVU has tonight's game against DePaul and a Saturday trip to South Florida to finish the regular season, then the Big East tournament beginning a week from today in New York."It's never over,'' Bryant said. "We've got two games left and that's just the regular season. We're not even talking about for the year. A great story could be written from here on out. You never know what can happen.''
In order for it to be written the way Bryant and Jones would like, though, will require not only their best effort but the effort of their young teammates, as well. Far too often during West Virginia's skid, the Mountaineers have gotten a top performance from one or the other, but not from both and seldom from the preponderance of freshmen who dominate the roster.And even when the Mountaineers have played well for a while, they haven't been able to close the deal. That's what bothers Jones the most - giving up leads in games down the stretch as they have done most recently in four straight home losses to Pitt, Notre Dame, Louisville and Marquette.
"We've had a habit of not being able to step on a team and keep them down when we have them down,'' Jones said. "If we'd done that a few times, we'd be in much better position.''Against DePaul tonight, West Virginia will face an opponent that is used to being down and not getting up. The Blue Demons have lost eight in a row and 13 of the last 14. But they do pose some issues.One of those is 6-foot-8, 205-pound Cleveland Melvin, who averages 17.4 points and 7.3 rebounds. Another is 6-3, 193-pound sophomore guard Brandon Young, who scores 14.8 points per game. Melvin had 17 points a year ago in a game at DePaul in which the Blue Demons had a chance to beat West Virginia at the buzzer. The Mountaineers held on to win 67-65.For his part, Jones also has two more games to bolster his case for player of the year in the Big East before the coaches' ballots are due. He is on track to become just the third player in league history to lead the Big East in both scoring and rebounding over an entire season, but WVU's slide might influence some voters.Coach Bob Huggins said Monday that shouldn't be the case."He's done everything and more that anybody's ever asked him to,'' Huggins said. "If he's not the player of the year, there should be an investigation.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.Depaul at WVUWhen: 7 p.m. todayTV: Root SportsLine: West Virginia by 14