Season of Disappointments Comes to Crashing Conclusion for WVU - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Season of Disappointments Comes to Crashing Conclusion for WVU

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PITTSBURGH -

Look down the bench and see the story etched on the faces of each and every member of West Virginia University's men's basketball team.

All the hard work, all the energy and enthusiasm that went into the season slowly drained away, replaced by the realization that it culminated in… What?

Nothing.

It left somewhere in the first half. The competitive will to win just seemed to pick up its belongings and stroll off the court, leaving behind just the shell of the players and the coaches who needed it in order to keep the season alive. 

What once seemed to bring promise not only for the current schedule but for the future took a turn for the worse before ultimately coming to a crashing, embarrassing conclusion in Pittsburgh.

The Mountaineers exuded confidence on Wednesday. It was the kind of confidence that can take an outfit in one of two very different directions. They could use it, thrive on it and build on it to put away a higher-ranked opponent. Or they could get blindsided by a team that was apparently less physical and far from home.

It became apparent very early in this, the final game of the season for WVU, that the confidence would have no positive impact.

Whatever these players felt had been fixed or had magically changed in the days since a first game exit from the Big East Tournament had not been altered one bit.

Were it not for the colors on their clothes, you'd have no idea that fans from Morgantown had crowded into the arena, ready for a "home" game. They were silenced early. A Bronx cheer after Kevin Jones broke an eight-minute field goal drought was likely the loudest it got after tipoff.

They simply had no motivation to give the team motivation.

All season we have heard Bob Huggins question a variety of aspects of his young players' game and character. At times he came off as being defeated, perplexed. In all his years coaching, he wondered how this bunch was incapable of achieving what countless others had done in the past.

On Thursday, it was as though that sentiment was exemplified all in one atrocious 40-minute session.

"This is the worst defensive team I've ever had in 30 years," Huggins said after the game. "We don't get the help, we don't get the loose balls. We don't do the things we've done for years and years and years."

Early in the game, Huggins about lost it every time a single aspect of the play on court did not go the way he had planned it. That happened quite often. He shouted at his players, at his assistants and at the officials and the scorers' table – no one was safe from his fury.

As the game progressed, he lost some of that intensity. With each mistake, his reaction mellowed.

At the under eight timeout in the second half, that aggression in the huddle had disappeared. In its place, Huggins simply sat on his chair, looked beyond the players he faced and threw up a hand as if surrendering to the fact that he was out of ideas.

His Mountaineers trailed by 23 points and had shown no signs that they could find a way to slow the opposition. No signs that they could score points of their own even if they could get a stop.

Jones kept playing. Truck Bryant kept playing. The players had no choice but to finish out the game and, for some of them, their careers.

"I never really thought [Gonzaga's lead] was insurmountable until around the four-minute mark when I just told my teammates just play as hard as you can. It doesn't matter the score, don't even look at the score and just keep on playing until the clock hits zero," Jones said in the locker room.

His career was in its final minutes. As much as he was disheartened and likely disgusted by what was transpiring, Jones did not want to just lay down and count the seconds until he could leave the arena.

Many on the bench probably did. Those in the stands certainly did.

They wanted the agony to stop, the disappointing season to be put out of its misery.

And so it was.

A year in which the Mountaineers climbed to heights they weren't expected to reach before falling to lows they'd never experienced came to a merciful end.

The players and coaches lifted themselves, dazed, from the bench, shook hands with an adversary that had just soundly defeated them, and headed back to the locker room.

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