MORGANTOWN — They rode off in the sunset together Saturday, an unlikely trio as there may have ever been in a WVU men’s basketball uniform.
Neither Emmitt Matthews Jr., Kedrian Johnson nor Erik Stevenson grew up anywhere close to Morgantown, yet they all took a moment over the last couple of days to speak of their experiences here as if it held a special place in their hearts.
And so, as the final seconds began ticking off the clock, the emotions began to seep out, as it was this unlikely trio that handed the Mountaineers an 89-81 victory against No. 11 Kansas State inside the Coliseum.
“It was a special day, no question about it,” said Stevenson, after he finished with 27 points in the victory. “Especially for us three, it was our last home game, ever, in college.”
Matthews and Johnson shared a long embrace. Stevenson began playing to the student section, before admitting he almost broke out into tears when he saw WVU head coach Bob Huggins was about to get emotional.
They are an unlikely trio in that their journeys to this moment were anything but traditional.
Stevenson’s career had taken him to just about every place but WVU, before he transferred here this summer.
Matthews started at WVU, then took a brief visit closer to home and played at the University of Washington for a season, before coming back.
How rare is that? According to research from the WVU Sports Information Department, Matthews is just the second player in school history to play at WVU, leave, and then transfer back.
Johnson was the kid no one wanted coming out of his Texas high school and he had to work his way through junior college to make a name for himself.
Even at WVU (18-13, 7-11 Big 12), he had to bust his behind just to get noticed, beginning his career at WVU as a point guard, just as Deuce McBride was developing into a future NBA-caliber talent.
“Everything I’ve been through growing up, I look back on those days,” said Johnson, who added 23 points and six assists. “I was one of the least-recruited guys on the team I played with. Going through junior college, I couldn’t take anything for granted. That’s what motivates me to play as hard as I do.”
Stevenson is a leader through words and motivation and is the first to admit he may have a screw loose in his mind.
Johnson leads through actions and Matthews is a young man with enough ability to grab the spotlight, yet he’s never craved it.
The combined for 70 points against the Wildcats (23-8, 11-7), in what was, without question, the Mountaineers’ best moment of the season.
Faced with questions of doubts and setbacks for the last two months, this became a group that never backed down, even if it also never fully seized the moment until the end.
“We were playing four our lives,” Matthews said. “The journey has been long, and I’m thankful for every part of it. I think tonight was a great way to cap off playing at home in college.”
They are all three unique in their own ways, yet came together for one common goal of finishing their college days in a better place than they started.
That they accomplished against Kansas State, a victory that basically solidifies a spot in the NCAA tournament for the Mountaineers, regardless of what happens in next week’s Big 12 tournament.
“I’ve played with Kedy before and I’ve played with Eric before, I just had to learn how to play with both of them at the same time,” Matthews said. “It means a lot, because I love playing with these guys. They’re both fiery. They drive you at the end of the day to want to win and do whatever it takes.”