MORGANTOWN — A decade ago today, West Virginia began its run to the Final Four of the 2010 NCAA Tournament, beating Morgan State, 77-55, in Buffalo, New York.
What was on our mind then? How did that go? How did the run transpire?
We take you back now 10 years, to the day before the game and to game day itself as it was then.
The game day column centered on Da’Sean Butler, who had just finished one of the greatest Big East Tournament’s ever, hitting a couple of game winning shots as WVU rushed to the Big East Championship.
Butler, of course, was from Newark, N.J., but in truth he was in a New York State of mind as the tournament started.
In New York, it seemed, it was always the way Butler did it.
Going into the tournament, we wrote:
“He’s played in the state of New York 16 times in his career. He averages 17.6 points a game and that includes two games as a freshman where he scored five points and six, something he remedied in the finals of the NIT that year, scoring 20 as West Virginia beat Clemson for the title in Madison Square Garden.
“Six times he’s scored 20 in New York, once 33 when playing at St. John’s.
“And, of course, there’s a pair of game-winning shots on the resume that came in Madison Square Garden as West Virginia was winning its first Big East championship.”
How New York was Butler at the time? He was a New York Knicks fan, which was pretty much then as it is now, a painful experience.
This is what we had to say about that:
See, Spike Lee was there [at the Garden for the Big East Tournament]. He was something of a hero to Butler, seeing as both of them were New York Knicks fans.
That’s right, Butler loves the Knicks and loves the Garden.
He knows about Patrick Ewing, the Knickerbocker Ewing, that is, not the Georgetown one.
He listened to Walt Frazier, a Knicks hero, the radio analyst with the smooth delivery, speaking in rhymes, firing out big words he’d find in the dictionary he carries with him and reads on the road. He tosses about words like “ubiquitous,” as much as he used to toss the basketball around.
He knows about Bill Bradley, the basketball player and the senator, and that Phil Jackson was a Knick before he was a coach. He remembers Charles Oakley and knows the legend of Willis Reed and now he has been there and done that, been a Madison Square Garden hero.
Oh, it bothered him to see Spike Lee there wearing a Georgetown jersey.
“I was looking for him after making the shot against Georgetown,” Butler said.
In the crowd and the celebration, he couldn’t find him, Spike Lee having headed for an exit with his Georgetown gear on.
It was just like watching the Knicks. He was a loser.
“No,” Butler would say a day later, “I wasn’t going to give him the Reggie Miller choke sign if I found him. I didn’t like Reggie Miller, either.”
Once a Knicks fan …
John Beilein had recruited Butler to West Virginia, Bob Huggins inherited him. It turned out to be the perfect match, Huggins and Butler.
“He’s a great player and a better person,” Huggins said.
That came from his family, Roysette and John Wilson, his mother and father.
“She loves me,” Butler said. “She loves basketball, but doesn’t know much about it. She sits there and smiles and enjoys the game, but she doesn’t know what’s going on.”
He laughs when he says it.
His father is an emotional man.
“He’ll drop a tear in a minute,” Butler said.
There were great expectations as game day came and WVU fans mobbed Madison Square Garden, but everyone knew the Mountaineers’ had disappointed them far too many times.
Beginning with Jerry West losing an NCAA final, with Major Harris losing a game against Notre Dame for a National Football Championship and just a year earlier the upset Pitt pulled to keep WVU from playing for another football championship.
Even the year before, an underdog Dayton, a No. 11 seed, had upset most of these Mountaineers in the NCAA Tournament in Minneapolis.
Morgan State, though, wasn’t going to stop them in the first round.
Butler’s late game heroics weren’t needed as he scored only nine points but Devin Ebanks had a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds and Kevin Jones scored 17 points with eight rebounds as the Mountaineers rolled toward the second round of the tournament.
It was Jones who actually was the key in the game because he ended a string of 11 straight missed shots to open the game and scored 13 in the first half to get WVU untracked.
“We always let teams get off to those huge leads and let them get confidence and that’s where it hurts us,” Jones said after the game. “I’m just glad we could come out and stomp on them and not let them back into the game.”
— Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel