MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–In Seattle, they have the 12s, which give the Seahawks that extra boost to send opponents packing. Well in Morgantown, they had a sixth man on the court against Baylor.
When No. 10 West Virginia University knocked off the top-ranked team in the country 89-68 on Tuesday, the Mountaineers attributed some of their success to the fans, all 14,632 of them.
“I think it helped,” senior forward Brandon Watkins said. “It just motivated us to keep grinding it out. Just have the crowd be the sixth man for our advantage.”
Mountaineer Nation was loud and proud before the game even started until long after John Denver’s “Country Roads” played.
“It was great energy,” Watkins added. “Everybody was here early. Last year for the Kansas game, it snowed. It was good energy all throughout.”
For the hometown hero, Nathan Adrian, it was a moment to cherish.
“It means a lot to me,” the senior forward said. “It’s a college town that thrives off of situations like this. It’s something special.”
While WVU players and fans believe in Bob Huggins’ squad, there were many doubters in the nation coming into the game. But the Mountaineers hope that’s about to change.
“If they didn’t say it before, they are definitely going to try and say it now,” senior guard Tarik Phillip said. “We just got to keep playing. That’s just half of what we can do. If we all play together and play as hard as we do, it’s tough to beat us.”
Before the game, the Mountaineers decided they were going to go out and show the Bears just why they are called “Press Virginia”
“The statement was give them extreme pressure and see how they react to it,” Phillip said.
And that is exactly what WVU did, forcing 29 turnovers and compiling 15 steals.
Not only did the Mountaineers win by a large margin, they dominated a team that defeated Xavier, Louisville, Michigan State and Oregon.
“It’s a great feeling, going up against a good team like Baylor,” sophomore forward Esa Ahmad said. “It don’t get any better than that, No.1, we put it up.”
While knocking off the No.1 team in the country is nothing new, it was a little bit different than last season’s win over Kansas.
“This game was different because it was blown open in the second half of it,” Phillip said. “We were just focusing on finishing off the game strong. We even lined up. Other times we would of ran into the crowd. We decided we been here before. So we lined up and shook hands and everything.”
And nights like this are ones Huggins thinks should become an expectation and not a shock.
“There was no one in our locker room that didn’t think we shouldn’t win,” he said. “My hope is we get to the point where it’s expected, you know, rather than celebrating. I’m okay with the students celebrating, having fun – and they were terrific by the way, but I want it to become expected.”
WVU is no longer the doormat of the country but a legitimate competitor among the big dogs.
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS