MORGANTOWN — Having prided itself as being a basketball program built on tough and gritty play, Bob Huggins could only watch as 13th-ranked West Virginia wilted down the stretch in Friday’s 99-94 overtime loss against Buffalo.
“They beat us at our own game,” Huggins said. “We generally force more turnovers than we commit. They got us, 19-11 there. We generally are one of the premiere rebounding teams in the country and they got us there.”
Buffalo’s 50-46 rebounding advantage only backed up the observation from the Mountaineers’ exhibition loss to Penn State, in which the Nittany Lions also grabbed more boards.
That observation: WVU is not that tough and gritty team it wants to be when it comes to rebounding.
“We didn’t box out,” said WVU forward Esa Ahmad, who finished with 15 points and seven rebounds. “We haven’t boxed out in practice and that translates to the game.”
The bad rebounding habits in practice is something Huggins noticed weeks ago and tried to correct by spending the first 25 minutes of each practice on nothing but crashing the boards.
It didn’t stop Penn State from grabbing 18 offensive rebounds in the exhibition game last week.
It certainly didn’t improve against the Bulls, who had 21 offensive rebounds.
If that sounds like a lot, it is. In Huggins’ first 11 seasons, a WVU opponent has recorded 21 or more offensive rebounds in a game just six other times.
“I feel like we’re supposed to be the best rebounding team in the country,” said WVU forward Lamont West, who finished with 22 points and nine rebounds. “We’re getting outrebounded every game. I feel like that because our effort is bad. We don’t box out all the time.
Buffalo guard CJ Massinburg, who is listed at 6-foot-3, finished with seven offensive rebounds and 14 rebounds for the game.
“That was a 6-foot-3 guy who got 14 rebounds and I don’t know if he’s really 6-foot-3,” Huggins said. “He just out-manned us.”
As the Mountaineers (0-1) move forward into next week’s Myrtle Beach Invitational, expect those extra rebounding sessions to continue.
“Twenty-five minutes is a lot to spend on rebounding,” Huggins said. “You’ve got to want to get it. No one has ever got a rebound that didn’t try to. We stand around and watch.”
There is something else to be said about the Mountaineers’ attitude heading into the season.
Huggins said earlier he hoped the exhibition loss against Penn State would serve as a wake-up call to his team.
It didn’t happen.
“We got young guys coming into the gym and we got some old guys laying on their ass somewhere,” Huggins said. “They’re not in the gym. You guys saw the game. You could name the guys who haven’t been in the gym and you’d be right. It’s obvious.
“This social media stuff is [crazy]. We got the 2020 [NBA] draft out there and we got guys who can’t dribble or pass who think they are pros. I’m the bad guy, because I’m the one who is telling them they’re not. We have an over-inflated idea of how good we are.”
How much of that changes will likely determine how much the Mountaineers improve during the season.
“It comes down to playing hard,” Ahmad said. “We just didn’t put it all together for 40 minutes.”
“We’re going to get better,” added West. “It’s not like we just lost the national championship. It’s the first game. We’re going to get better.”
WVU freshmen Derek Culver, Trey Doomes and Emmitt Matthews Jr. did not play in the game.
Huggins also held Culver, a 6-foot-10 forward, out of the exhibition game, because of bad practice habits.
The coach also hinted heading into the Buffalo game the Mountaineers may look into redshirting Doomes, a 6-foot-3 guard from Acworth, Ga.
“Somebody is not going to play, because we have too many people at that [guard] position,” Huggins said. “He could [redshirt]. Honestly, it would be pretty good for him. He doesn’t want to do it, I’m sure. Lamont didn’t want to do it and Beetle [Bolden] didn’t want to do it and Logan [Routt] didn’t want to do it and it turned out pretty well for them.