Latest News, Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Mountaineers continue fighting, but is any help going to enough?

To his credit, Josh Eilert is not changing his message, not even after watching West Virginia fall to St. John’s 79-73 on Friday night in the annual Big East-Big 12 Battle.
That message is simple: Keep fighting, keep battling, keep improving.
“We have challenges,” Eilert said. “We’re not going to make excuses, just got to keep on fighting.”
For those who are looking for panic and a sense of self-loathing, you will not find that from Eilert, despite the situation he’s in as an interim coach.
And then he slips this in: “Figure out a way to keep saying there’s help coming, and there will be to a certain extent, but it’s not here yet.”
There are just two games remaining before point guard Kerr Kriisa is able to return from a nine-game suspension.
No one knows how the case over RaeQuan Battle’s eligibility will turn out, and no one knows if forward Akok Akok will be able to return from a medical situation.
This could be help on the way, or it could be something else entirely.
A false hope? Perhaps. The return of Kriisa will be welcomed, but let’s not make this out to be something it’s not.
Kriisa is not the second coming of Oscar Robertson, and there’s no need to put those type of expectations on a single player.
More to the point, though, what will there be to help?
WVU (3-4) lost this game to the Red Storm, because it failed to make the big plays in the big moments — like rebound the ball or make a free throw — and because it has no one able to step up and hit a big shot.
Or a little shot, for that matter.
There are no pure shooters on this roster. There are streaky shooters. There are athletes who can do a few things to get closer to the rim, but in terms of guys an opposing coach will circle on a chalkboard and say, “We’ve got to guard these guys,” WVU just doesn’t have a lot of them.
Jesse Edwards is obviously one of those, guys, but he fouled out with 2:27 remaining. Quinn Slazinski (19 points, 7 rebounds) is developing that type of edge you like to see.
Kobe Johnson has been solid, but there’s been little consistency from anyone else.
Kriisa, by himself, isn’t going to be able to fix all of that. He’ll help, but …
The shame of it all is Eilert needed the complete package to come together to make this thing work this season. He needed Kriisa from Game 1. He needed Battle and needed Akok.
We’ll never actually know how this thing could have really turned out for him, because he’s been forced to play five-card stud with just four cards.
And someone will eventually have to evaluate the job he’s done.
“We’re not a victim,” Eilert said. “The situation is what it is. We go out there and we battle every single possession.”
Keep fighting. Keep battling, it is a positive message these players need to keep hearing, considering the situation.
Eilert, too, needs to hear his work is appreciated, which it truly is.
Yet WVU is at a sort of crossroads at the moment, a critical juncture.
Is this a no-win situation? Not yet, but it may take more than a little help and a message to get things turned around.
“They were out there fighting, but they were outmanned in a lot of ways,” Eilert said.