BROOKLYN, N.Y.–West Virginia University’s basketball season came to an end on Friday night after a stunning 70-56 loss to 14th-seeded Stephen F. Austin in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
What went wrong for the third-seeded Mountaineers?
First, WVU lost at its own game. The Mountaineers turned the ball over 22 times that led to 29 points for the Lumberjacks.
At times this season, WVU has been able to get away with turnovers, but the Mountaineers only forced seven, leading to four points.
WVU turned the ball over on six straight possessions in the first half, which led to a scoring drought over 10 minutes long spanning the two halves.
“The main thing, we turned the ball over what 22, 23 times,” junior guard Tarik Phillip said. “Coach always said if you turn the ball over more than 10 times, it’s hard to win a game. That’s what we try to do. We try to turn them over. We are a pressing team. How many turnovers did they have? Like seven? That’s the game right there and just taking care of the ball. That’s less shots for us. Usually we would take a shot. We don’t shoot greatly but usually we get a shot at the rim, get a second chance, third chance. That’s the game right there I feel like.”
It was the second time in two games that WVU turned the ball over 20 times. Against Kansas in the Big 12 Championship, the Mountaineers turned it over 21 times.
Part of that comes to WVU’s lack of ability to complete passes. The Mountaineers failed to find open men. They threw the ball right into the opponents’ hands several times.
“We can’t pass,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “But we haven’t been able to pass all year. We’ve start the game and we have guys pinned and we throw it arms high. We had a guy open on an out-of-bounds play and we threw the ball right in their hands. I think — you know, I’m starting to think anyways that, when we spend a lot of time trying to teach guys how to pass, I think sometimes you better go recruit some guys that can pass because I’m not sure that it’s something — it’s kind of like shooting. If you’re a bad shooter, you can become a little better, but you’re never really going to be a good shooter. I think, if you’re a bad passer, you can get better, but you’re never going to be a good passer. It’s a skill thing.
“We’ve done it all year. This isn’t a new deal for us. It’s just we’ve made up for it in other ways that we didn’t make up for either. We didn’t make a shot today either. We didn’t make free throws. If you wrote down how to lose a game, you could probably check off just about everything that you wrote down, and that’s not taking anything away from Stephen F. Austin. I love Brad to death, and Brad’s done a great job with that bunch, and they played their butts off. But you could probably make a list and check it off and say, yeah, they did all those things.”
WVU struggled to make baskets for the second straight game. Esa Ahmad started the game with two 3s, but things went sour from there.
The Mountaineers shot 31 percent from the floor and made just 3-of-16 from beyond the arc.
Down the stretch WVU started missing free throws. The Mountaineers made 21-of-27 from the line.
Then there was Stephen F. Austin’s Thomas Walkup. The senior annihilated WVU’s defense.
He scored 33 points on 6-of-15 shooting. Walkup made 2-of-3 from 3-point range and he never missed from the charity stripe, knocking down 19-of-20.
“He’s a good player though,” Paige said. “We made him get some tough shots. He took advantage of the mismatches tonight. We had bigs guarding them and he went at them. He knocked down free throws and open shots.”
The Mountaineers came out flat and looked defeated the entire game.
Maybe it was a lack of intensity or maybe they took Stephen F. Austin for granted.
“I just got to give my hats off to Stephen F. Austin,” Williams said. “They did what they were supposed to do. Their play showed how focused and prepared they were, and we just didn’t take it serious. That’s what happens in this tournament when you don’t take people serious. They just scouted well and soaked in what the coaching staff was giving.”
“We knew it was going to be a tough game, Ahmad said. “They just wanted it more. We were late on rotations. They wanted every 50-50 ball, and they just wanted it more.
The Mountaineers had the potential to make a run to the Final Four, but the Lumberjacks outplayed WVU.
“That team play better,” senior forward Jonathan Holton said. “We turned the ball over and we had blew an opportunity. We had a chance to do something special, but it happens. To tell you the truth, I just want to go home so I can cry it all out. But it’s cool. You can’t change nothing. That team deserves all it did and what it had went through. They played hard and they outplayed us today and they deserve everything.”
“Brad’s (Underwood) got a great group, Huggins said. “He’s got five seniors guys, I think and guys that have been with him for three years. They run their stuff really well, and they’ve seen a lot of things, and they’ve made great adjustments. They kind of kept the ball out of areas where we wanted to get the ball. We helped. Don’t get me wrong, we helped, and we made some horrible decisions. But I think that’s what happens. I think, when you can keep a group together like that, you know. I think the good thing about being at a mid-major is you’re not losing guys every year.”
The Mountaineers had three bad practices that lacked intensity and excitement prior to the game against the Lumberjacks.
“We just had three bad practices and at this time you supposed to be hyped to be playing in the. NCAA Tournament,” Paige said. And we just took it for granted.”
What went wrong in those three practices?
“Just not into it (practice),” Paige added.
Why was WVU so nonchalant about the game? No one knows but them.
At the end of the night, Stephen F. Austin was the better team. The Lumberjacks were quicker. They beat the Mountaineers to spots. They drew fouls and made free throws. They broke WVU’s pressure.
And turnovers were detrimental.
In the end, it was a great season. However one of the best season’s school history and it will be defined by a terrible loss.