Anytime West Virginia and Virginia Tech get together in any sport, the excitement turns up a notch.
The two old rivals — former Big East conference mates — have seen each other few times over the last decade, after the Hokies joined the ACC in 2004, but the rivalry has not been forgotten.
It will be renewed today on the hardwood, when WVU and VT meet in front of an ESPN television audience at 1 p.m. as part of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon, which will include more than 24 consecutive hours of basketball on the various ESPN networks.
The Hokies (0-1) are in their second season under head coach James Johnson, who finished a disappointing 13-19, 4-14 in ACC play, in his debut season after a 7-0 start. Year No. 2 began an embarrassing loss in the season opener, as Johnson’s club fell 64-63 to USC Upstate of the Atlantic Sun Conference Saturday in Cassell Coliseum.
Tech played the game without junior forward C.J. Barksdale, who was suspended for the first three games for “a violation of team rules.” Guard Marquis Rankin also sat out the game against the Spartans for what was termed “personal reasons.” No timetable for his return has been given.
The Hokies did find 17 points out of forward Cadarian Raines, all in the second half. Raines averaged 6.4 rebounds per game for Tech last season. Jarrell Eddie, the leading returning scorer at 12.3 points per game, led the team with 18 points and pulled down seven rebounds, but he missed a crucial free throw and had a shot blocked down the stretch.
"I don’t thing there’s any question, they’ll come back with a lot more resolve,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins of the Hokies’ early loss.
WVU (1-0) opened its season with a win on Friday, trying to put the memory of a 13-19 season — the third losing season of Huggins’ career — behind it with a 77-62 victory over Mount St. Mary’s.
Junior point guard Juwan Staten scored a career-high 22 points and also led the team in rebounds (5), assists (6) and steals (4).
“The best leaders I’ve ever had are leaders that lead by example and are the hardest workers in practice every day,” said Huggins. “They also know what we want, and (Staten’s) done a great job of that. He’s in the gym early and he stays late.”
Sophomore guard Eron Harris scored 19, freshman forward Nathan Adrian had 11 and fellow freshman Brandon Watkins chipped in 10.
A Mountaineer team that struggled to make shots last season, shot 56 percent from the field as Huggins picked up his 724th win to move into 18th place on the all-time NCAA Division I list.
“We’re fortunate that we made some shots, but as we wall know, there’s going to be some games when those shots don’t go down,” said Huggins. “We’re going to have to stop people and keep them from getting second shots.”
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WVU leads the all-time series between the Mountaineers and the Hokies, which began in 1921, 47-29. The teams met for the first time since 2004 last December, with WVU winning a 68-67 thriller in Morgantown. The Mountaineers’ last trip to Cassell Coliseum came in 2004, a 53-49 Hokie victory. Virginia Tech is 16-12 on its home floor against the Mountaineers.
Cam Huffman is sports editor of The Register-Herald. Contact him at chuffman @register-herald.com.