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

COLUMN: WVU shows what season could have been in Big 12 tourney win over K-State

For a glimpse Wednesday, West Virginia showed it could be the team we all once thought they could be.

And by that, I mean mature and experienced, not easily shaken or stirred, and with the game on the line, this team would be pulled through the muck by its collection of older guys.

That’s exactly what happened Wednesday, as the Mountaineers won their first-round game of the Big 12 tournament against Kansas State 73-67 at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City.

It wasn’t always pretty, then again, whenever K-State and WVU (16-16) get together, it seemingly resembles a car wreck with a ton of fouls and carnage.

These two teams usually find a way to keep it close, and that’s exactly what we saw with 5:57 remaining.
At that point, the scoreboard read: WVU 61, Kansas State 60.

How the Wildcats (14-17) got to 60 was a cheap basket on an inbounds play when Nijel Pack caught the Mountaineers’ defense sleeping for a quickie lay-up.

It’s then you almost began to say, “It’s going to happen again.”

Because that’s what WVU has shown to be for most of this season. It’s shown flashes of being able to compete against anyone, but somehow was always able to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.

Not this time, and the reason was simple: WVU’s seniors came to play.

“When you have seniors who want to go on to the next level, some of us were playing for our lives,” WVU guard Taz Sherman said. “It was going to be an aggressive, physical and hard-playing game, because no one wants to go home.”

You remember those seniors. Sherman and Sean McNeil have been the leaders. Pauly Paulicap, Malik Curry and Dimon Carrigan are new, but they’ve been around the block a few times at other places. Throw in Kedrian Johnson and Gabe Osabuohien, too, who are WVU’s best defenders by far.

Combined, their average age is considerably north of what you’d expect college seniors to be, which was supposed to be the key to this season.

While the team lost a lot of athleticism and defense when both Deuce McBride and Derek Culver left school early to seek pro careers last spring, they were replaced with experience and not kids looking to make their mark.

WVU’s rotation was not going to be young guys. It was going to be a rotation that head coach Bob Huggins could mix and match on the fly, because he wouldn’t have to explain things over and over again.

Well, we know how that turned out.

Except for Wednesday. When the chips were on the line, Sherman nailed a 28-footer like it was a lay-up.

On the next possession, WVU moved the ball around and got Kansas State’s defense on the move and Curry nailed another 3-pointer.

The possession after that, McNeil got into the part, not with another 3-pointer, which is what you’d expect, but rather he went for a backdoor cut for a lay-up.

It was Osabuohien who hit McNeil with the perfect pass.

All of a sudden, WVU led 67-60 with an eight-point outburst that was simply a matter of older and experienced guys dissecting the other team.

Paulicap added a blocked shot. Sherman threw in another floater and Kansas State spent the final two minutes in a panic by throwing up airball-3s and turning the ball over.

“We were just a little tougher tonight,” is the way McNeil put it.

Up next is No. 6-ranked Kansas at 3 p.m. Thursday, the true test of how far these WVU seniors really have come together.

The Jayhawks have won seven of the last eight meetings against the Mountaineers. In Big 12 tournament play, Kansas is 3-0 against WVU.

But, great moments come first from opportunity, and WVU has exactly that in the quarterfinals.

We’ll see if this older bunch of WVU players can play once again like the experienced guys we’d thought we’d see most of the season.