Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

West Virginia returns to Madison Square Garden to face St. John’s in Big East/Big 12 Battle

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Considering the New York Knicks have finished 126-284 over the last five seasons and haven’t had a winning record since 2013, maybe the luster of Madison Square Garden isn’t what it once was.

Just don’t tell that to West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, who still has fond memories there as a WVU player and coach.

As a former WVU player, Huggins came off the bench and played 34 minutes as the Mountaineers fell to No. 7 Rutgers, 86-76, on Feb. 5, 1976.

“I was kind of giddy. I couldn’t hardly wait to get out there and play,” Huggins said during a media conference Thursday, as the Mountaineers (7-0) prepared to travel to the Garden to face St. John’s (7-2) at noon Saturday. “We walked in and the Knicks were practicing. “I had to pinch myself to make me believe I was watching those guys.”

Those guys included some of the NBA all-time greats like Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe and Bill Bradley.

“Bradley stayed and shot after practice for quite a while and I think he missed one shot,” Huggins said.

As a coach, Huggins led the Mountaineers to their greatest memory in the Garden, that being the 2010 Big East tournament championship. Da’Sean Butler hit the game-winner against Cincinnati and then did it again two nights later against Georgetown to secure the title.

All of it is buried in the past. Huggins is now more concerned with the present, as he has an undefeated team that has yet to earn much national respect in the top 25 polls.

A win in the Garden would be the Mountaineers’ second true road win against a team from a top conference, not that Huggins is all that interested in spouting off his team’s resume’ in early December.

“It means we’re 8-0 and we come home for two before we go to Youngstown,” Huggins said. “I think our guys have been pretty good at taking them one at a time.”

That thought was echoed by his players.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to go and get a key road win,” WVU guard Jermaine Haley said. “As a team, we’ve been pretty good at not making things bigger than they are. Any time you get a chance to play in New York, you want to play well, but we feel like that any time we go on the road.”

The game is part of the first Big East/Big 12 Battle. The series between the two conferences is signed through the 2022-23 season.

Under first-year head coach Mike Anderson, who took over for Chris Mullin, the Red Storm have become a fast-paced and full-court pressing team that is forcing nearly 18 turnovers per game.

“They play the way that Mike’s always played and been really good at getting his guys to play,” Huggins said. “They’re going to press and they’re going to press in multiple ways.”

St. John’s enters the game on a three-game win streak and are led by senior guard Mustapha Heron (15.0 ppg), a transfer from Auburn.

The Red Storm features a four-guard lineup to go with its full-court pressing style. Their guards all have good size, with Heron (6-foot-5), L.J. Figueroa (6-6) and Julian Champagnie (6-7). Starting forward Josh Roberts is 6-9 and leads the team in rebounding at 8.7 boards per game.

“The other thing is they shoot the ball inside of 13 seconds,” Huggins said. “They want to lead the country in possessions and they have some guys who can score it. Their thinking is if they can have more possessions than the other team, then with the guys they have who can score, they can outscore the other team.”

West Virginia at St. John’s
WHEN: Noon Saturday
WHERE: Madison Square Garden
TV: FS1 (Comcast 30, 857 HD; DirecTV 219; DISH 150)

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