MORGANTOWN — It began as a friendship and part friendly rivalry on the courts in and around Tacoma, Wash.
Emmitt Matthews Jr. and Erik Stevenson weren’t always on the same team as they will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, when they play their final regular season game in college when WVU hosts No. 11 Kansas State.
“It’s funny, but our final games in high school, we played against each other and now we’re going to go out together,” Matthews said.
Who won that game in high school?
“He did,” Matthews says with a smile, saying he played with a wrist injury that helped Stevenson’s team to victory.
“He should have blamed that press they put on us,” is Stevenson’s memory of that matchup.
Combined, their college basketball journey has spanned 306 games and nearly 2,900 points. Both played one season back home at the University of Washington, although not together, missing each other by a year.
“Basketball has taken me around the world, and the relationships I’ve built here with the players and the staff are irreplaceable,” Matthews said.
Both players are part of a large contingent of seniors who will be honored before the game, along with fellow fifth-year senior Kedrian Johnson, as well as seniors Tre Mitchell, Joe Toussaint and Jimmy Bell Jr.
“After my name is called, if I’m not last, I may have to get some heating pads before the game starts,” Johnson joked.
Due to the NCAA allowing for a fifth year of eligibility after COVID-19, Bell, Mitchell and Toussaint all have the option to return to college next season.
But this will be it for Johnson, Matthews and Stevenson.
“Senior (Day) is going to mean a lot more to me here because this is like a second home to me,” Matthews said. “They took me in as a child and now I’m sitting up here as a man today.”
“It’s been real fun. We’ve obviously had our ups and downs winning games,” added Stevenson, who has also played at Wichita State, Washington and South Carolina. “Overall, this has been the best team I’ve been a part of. Guys love each other and want to be around each other.”
As far as winning games, Saturday’s matchup against the Wildcats (23-7, 11-6 Big 12) serves as an opportunity for the Mountaineers (17-13, 6-11) to solidify their spot for the NCAA tournament.
“We need to win just to take all doubt away,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “I think we’re fine now, but we’d all feel a lot more comfortable sitting there when the pairings are announced if we had one more win.”
That’s the focus, WVU players said, but the reality of playing one last game inside the Coliseum is difficult to forget.
“I might tear up a little bit, but at the end of the day we’ve got to go out there and play,” Matthews said. “We’ve got to keep a business approach with this game and I’m going to try my best to do that.”
“It means the world to me,” added Johnson. “The only fans I know are West Virginia fans, so that will be a pretty sad and happy moment at the same time.”
Besides finality and NCAA-tournament projections, this game will also hold much meaning for seeding in the Big 12 tournament.
Kansas State, picked last in the Big 12 in the preseason, could sew up the No. 2 seed with a victory.
Meanwhile, WVU could move up to the No. 7 seed with a win and an Oklahoma State loss against Texas Tech.
No. 11 KANSAS STATE at WVU
WHEN: 2 p.m., Saturday
WHERE: WVU Coliseum
TV: ESPN+ (Online subscription needed)
RADIO: 100.9 JACK-FM