Contributors, Justin Jackson, Men's Basketball, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Crunch time miscues sign of a WVU team not ready to win

If this were the pros, we could chalk up West Virginia’s late-season setbacks as tanking for a better draft pick.

Except this is not the pros, and the Mountaineers have nothing to gain from losing, something that truly can be seen in the effort that was given in Monday’s 78-73 loss against Kansas State.


Even with that effort, a lot of the usual suspects from past defeats popped up again. The kind of stuff players and coaches say needs to be fixed, except now we’re in mid-February and a lot of it hasn’t been fixed and time is running out.

“We didn’t play as well coming out of half time again,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “That’s been a problem. We’ve got to get that fixed. I really want to look at (the film), so we can do a better job of playing through some things.”

It was an inspired first half, especially if you saw the second half of WVU’s 23-point loss against Oklahoma State last Saturday.

Taz Sherman was as aggressive as he’s been all year. Jalen Bridges was posting up smaller guys in the paint and following up a teammate’s missed shot with a dunk.

Pauly Paulicap grabbed an offensive rebound and scored it — where has that been all season? — for an and-one three-point play, while Isaiah Cottrell — a career-high 13 points — and Kedrian Johnson (15 points with just four field-goal attempts) also showed some offensive sparks.

It was also a first half in which a smaller Kansas State team hit five 3-pointers and scored seven fast-break points and we did not see WVU forward Gabe Osabuohien in action.

Osabuohien’s absence could likely be explained by his actions in the Oklahoma State loss in which he let his frustrations get the better of him.

He picked up two technical fouls and was ejected late in that game and then got into a shouting match with Huggins before getting escorted to the locker room.

We also didn’t see much activity from Sean McNeil early, who struggled and missed the only two shots he attempted. He finished with five points on 2 for 6 shooting.

Still, all things considered, the Mountaineers played like a team with an eye toward reaching postseason play and desperate for a win.

Then came a long list of miscues and missed opportunities that explains exactly why the Mountaineers (14-11, 3-9 Big 12) are tied with Iowa State for last place in the Big 12.

Midway through the second half, WVU went nearly 10 minutes with making just one basket. That’s one thing and bad runs happen even to the best of teams.

K-State (14-11, 6-7) went on an 18-2 run during that stretch to wipe out a 10-point deficit, but that’s not what hurt the Mountaineers the most.

Crunch time absolutely killed them, and that’s a sign of a team that is just not ready to win.

In the final 2:27 of the game, WVU did not score a single point.

What it did was foul Ismael Massoud on a 3-point shot with 2:02 left. Yeah, Massoud had made 96 career 3-pointers in his college career, but he’s not exactly Larry Bird. He’s averaging 6.3 points per game and that foul took what was a one-point game and gave the Wildcats a 77-73 lead.

WVU’s next possession saw Sherman fall to the ground while Kedrian Johnson was passing the ball to him and the ball went out of bounds for a turnover.

“I saw him go to the ground,” Johnson said. “I’m not sure what really happened. Maybe he was tripped, maybe he wasn’t. The ball went the other way.”

There was an airball 3-point attempt from Bridges. Sherman got caught along the baseline and stepped out of bounds on another possession, and then lost his dribble out of bounds on another.

This isn’t razzing on Sherman. He finished with 23 points, but his three turnovers all came in those crucial moments.

“Those were big opportunities that we missed,” Johnson said. “The game was close. When the game is going down to the wire like that, we need every possession. If we lose a possession, that can cost us the game. We constantly made mistakes.”

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