Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

MICKEY FURFARI

March 18, 2014

NIT-bound WVU men must rebound from stinging Texas loss tonight

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University’s struggling men’s basketball team has an opportunity to keep playing by beating old rival Georgetown on the road at 7 p.m. today in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

But I am still mystified, perhaps baffled, by the shocking ease with which the Texas Longhorns destroyed the Mountaineers in last Thursday’s late night second round of the Big 12 Tournament at Kansas City, Mo.

That final score of 66-49 really is misleading because the Longhorns (23-10) jumped out to a commanding 12-0 lead and never looked back. West Virginia seemed glaringly inept in virtually every phase of the game.

Some observers called it the worst first-half performance in veteran head coach Bob Huggins’ seven years at his alma mater’s helm. The third-seeded Longhorns owned a 35-14 halftime advantage and eventually built a 30-point lead.

In slightly more than 70 years of sports reporting, I can’t recall a worse first half of basketball by a WVU men’s team. Perhaps there’s someone who knows of a Division I contest that topped this one?

West Virginia, seeded No. 6, missed its first seven shots from the field. It took about five minutes on the clock before the Mountaineers did light up their end of the scoreboard.

What’s more, they required more than 11 minutes before a starting player — freshman Devin Williams — scored a basket.

Texas was so dominating in sweeping three straight games from WVU this year that 10 points by Texas point guard Javan Felix in the first half were enough at that point to outscore the entire WVU team.

That is, until Kevin Noreen scored off a rebound with 4:30 remaining in the first half.

This is the third time in as many meetings that Texas has led by at least 20 points in 2013-14 competition.

The Mountaineers were so inept in their goaling that they shot just 18.2 percent (6 of 33) from the field and were 0-of-8 from 3-point range in the first half.

No doubt about it, that was this young Mountaineer squad’s most disastrous performance by far of this 17-15 campaign.

Give the Mountaineers some credit, though — they never quit in the second half, outscoring Texas by 35-31. But it was obviously a case of too little, too late.

And all those defeats at the Longhorns’ hands were by double-digit margins.

Making this matter even more perplexing, West Virginia, with three scorers tallying more than 20 points each, upset nationally No. 8-ranked Kansas 92-86 in the regular-season finale at home.

In the process, the Mountaineers shot better than 50 percent from both the field and the foul line. They also outrebounded the Jayhawks in what’s rated as WVU’s best performance and achievement in the last three years.

Brandon Watkins, a reserve 6-foot-9 freshman forward, was WVU’s top scorer against Texas with a mere 10 points. Can you recall the last time a Mountaineer starter failed to hit double figures in scoring?

WVU also was held to under 50 percent goaling.

Happily, the Mountaineers (17-15) learned late Sunday night of their extended life against Georgetown (17-14) in Washington D.C. ESPN will televise the contest.

Georgetown, which leads the all-time series by just 26-25, has lost the last five meetings with West Virginia. So the Hoyas undoubtedly will be primed for revenge.

John Thompson III is in his 10th year as head coach, following in the footsteps of his famous father. His team was ranked No. 9 nationally in the Hoyas’ upset loss to WVU in 2012.

The teams are seeded No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, in the NIT field of 32 teams.

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MICKEY FURFARI