Column: West Virginia falls flat against Chanticleers to cap off disappointing season

MORGANTOWN — At least the parking was free.

That’s at least one cheerful takeaway for 6,775 West Virginia fans who came with a mild case of “CBI Fever” only to watch their team get heat-checked by Coastal Carolina, 109-91.

Derek Culver showed up late for warmups and the Mountaineers’ defense never showed up at all. The home team trailed by double-digits for the game’s final 23 minutes and saw the deficit balloon to 27 points at one juncture. WVU lost the rebounding battle also.

There wasn’t much to console a group that entered the CBI hoping to pick up a bargain-basement consolation prize.

“We were probably the favorite coming in to win this tournament,” said guard Chase Harler, “and it kinda sucks because I thought we were getting on a roll.”

Eleven days ago, this team beat Texas Tech on a neutral court. As in, Sweet 16 Texas Tech. Big 12 co-champ Texas Tech. But on Monday, the seventh-place squad from the Sun Belt carved through West Virginia like yesterday’s salami.

Coastal Carolina (17-16) entered the night sporting KenPom’s 173rd-ranked offense. Mr. Pomeroy may need to adjust his formula after the two-hour shooting spree the Chanticleers exhibited.

“We executed our game plan almost letter perfect,” said Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis. “We had opportunities and we made the most of them.”

Opportunities galore.

West Virginia’s step-slow defense surrendered open 3s and Coastal Carolina gratefully sank 13-of-28. The interior defense looked equally soft, yielding 23 layups.

“The coaches work extremely hard on the scout — barely getting sleep trying to make sure we know what we’re doing,” said Mountaineers freshman Emmitt Matthews. “We just didn’t pay attention good enough.”

Though West Virginia has a young team, the excuse didn’t wash when Chanticleers freshman DeVante Jones detonated for 32 points. Those were 23 more than he scored against Howard in the CBI opener. (The kid who had made 2-of-17 from 3 in his past three games stroked 6-of-8 in the Coliseum.)

Matthews was at a loss to explain the lack of passion, considering how West Virginia’s stripped-to-the-core roster lobbied for this CBI experience.

“We’re not where we want to be at all, but tonight we were even farther from where we’ve been,” he said. “Games like Texas Tech and Oklahoma at the Big 12 tournament, we go from that to laying an egg tonight.”

Those embarrassing midseason losses to TCU by 31, Iowa State by 25, Kansas by 25 and Texas by 22 — this felt worse. So much for turning a corner.

Bob Huggins didn’t see this blowout coming. Nor did he see Culver on the court by his appointed pregame deadline.

“He was late,” said the coach, before launching into a soliloquy about compromising principles and letting players run loose with expectations. “That’s how this whole mess started.”

So Culver sat out the first half, just like he sat out the season’s first 10 games. That’s no way to bookend a season for a player so gifted.

With a final record of 15-21, Huggins called it “one of the worst seasons in the history of West Virginia basketball.” Considering the vacuum of leadership brought on by dismissals, departures and the injury saga of Sagaba Konate, there’s no arguing the point.

That a few good kids left behind would deliver a half-hearted effort only added to the saltiness.

“It kills me because I know we had 6,500 people show up,” Huggins said. “They show up and start to believe in these guys, and we do this.”

Another freshman, point guard Jordan McCabe, pre-empted postgame questions with an apology to the crowd and a declaration that “next year’s gonna be different.”

Next time the Mountaineers play at the Coliseum, parking will be $20 and the difference had better be obvious.

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