As West Virginia players took to Twitter in the aftermath of Tuesday’s 94-89 overtime loss to No. 3 Baylor on Tuesday, the frustration and heartbreak level was as apparent as postgame interviews with guards Miles McBride and Sean McNeil were.
Compounding the sorrow is that the close call at the Coliseum was hardly the only one of its kind this season. The defeat falls in line with other close home losses against the likes of Texas, Oklahoma and Florida.
But the silver lining in all of that is that the No. 6 Mountaineers (17-7 overall, 10-5 Big 12 Conference) are used to putting gut-wrenching losses in the rear-view mirror. Never will that trait be more important than it is right now.
That’s because on Thursday, TCU becomes the third in WVU’s stretch of four games in eight days, with the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers set to tip off at 7 p.m. in the Coliseum. The game will air on Big 12 Now and the ESPN+.
On Tuesday, the Mountaineers squandered their last chance at a Big 12 regular-season title and likely any chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Now the second seed in the conference tournament hangs in the balance for WVU. Wins over TCU Thursday and Oklahoma State Saturday would lock up the No. 2 spot for the Mountaineers, but a loss in either contest would put WVU behind Kansas and possibly the Cowboys too.
Then there’s the whole thing with coach Bob Huggins 900th career win. Huggins sits at 898, so wins in the next two games would get him to the landmark number. It would come in the Coliseum, in front of a COVID-19-capped crowd on Saturday against Oklahoma State.
However, a loss in either game would put the team either in Kansas City, Missouri for the Big 12 tournament or in Indianapolis for the NCAA Tournament for Huggins’ 900th.
Personal accolades aren’t ever at the forefront of Huggins’ thought process, and it certainly wasn’t after Tuesday’s game. But whether it’s the team’s situation or the preferred site for Huggins becoming just the fifth coach to ever clear the 900 mark, there’s plenty riding on the next two games. With no off nights in the Big 12 tournament, Tuesday’s disappointment will have to be a distant memory by Thursday.
“That’s what I told them, that’s what I talked about in the locker room is that we can’t let one loss turn into three,” Huggins said. “We can still finish second in the league but we’ve got to take care of our business. We have to concentrate on TCU, and then after that we have to concentrate on Oklahoma State, who is playing extremely, extremely well.
“We’ve got to grow up. We can’t let one loss turn into three.”
Though TCU will enter the Coliseum with a 5-9 mark in the league and a 12-11 record overall, the Horned Frogs are anything but pushovers. Just last week, TCU kept within striking distance of the Mountaineers before eventually succumbing 74-66 in Fort Worth, Texas. TCU already has two wins over aforementioned Oklahoma State, which checked in at No. 17 in this week’s poll.
Junior guard RJ Nembhard is fourth in the league in scoring at 16.6 points per game and had 17 against the Mountaineers last week. Freshman guard Mike Miles is also in double-figure scoring, averaging 13.8 points, while 6-foot-11 junior center Kevin Samuel proved to be a load inside in the teams’ last meeting, when he went for 11 points and 10 rebounds. He averages 9.1 points and 8.1 rebounds.
Having already survived two thrillers against Iowa State, which still hasn’t won a game in Big 12 play, West Virginia is all too familiar with the perils of playing with a hangover or down to competition. Whether WVU can take the lessons learned from Tuesday night and its other losses in marquee matchups this season and use it to make a tournament run remains to be seen.
But on Thursday, the Mountaineers will have to prove once again that they are a team with a short memory.
“You have a 24-hour rule, whether you win or lose you can’t dwell on it too long,” McBride said. “[Wednesday] we start getting ready for TCU and it’s getting to crunch time. We’ve got to get that game and then move on.”