Dominique Rutledge got called for a foul on this play. Seriously. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE
Ugh. Where have we seen that before? Oh, right. UConn the first time around. Notre Dame. Marquette. Syracuse. Baylor. I think you get the idea: WVU builds a sizeable second-half lead (leading by 9 with 5 minutes to go), then finds a way to completely piss it away at the end (allowing overtime, then losing by 4 after not making a field goal). More than anything, that's what I'll remember about this season of WVU basketball. Somehow, the Mountaineers found ways to win these types of games early in the season. Then, inexplicably, they completely lost the ability to function as competent basketball players in the last 5 or 10 minutes of games.
I honestly think a lot of the problem is youth. I know that can be a bit of a cop-out, especially when other teams are playing freshmen and when these guys have had 30+ games of really good college basketball under their belts. But the way the season has gone losing so many games at the end, you see players pucker up at the end of games and you wonder whether the close losses have gotten into their heads some. How else can you explain Gary Browne essentially present the ball on a silver platter to Shabazz Napier for a breakaway layup not once, but twice? And the inability of anyone to get---let alone make---a decent look at the basket in the closing minutes? You would think someone could figure out a way to manufacture some kind of points when we need them to close out a game. But instead, we just panic and throw up something totally awkward-looking with nobody in position to even get a rebound. It's baffling, it's frustrating, and it's disheartening, but that's the kind of team we have to live with.
The worst part of it all is how huge a travesty it is for Kevin Jones. KJ was absolutely brilliant for the first 30 minutes of the game until his teammates seemed to completely forget about him on the offensive end. What's worse, the shots they took were so bad that Jones didn't even have an opportunity to get in decent rebounding position for one of his patented put-backs. That he finished with 25 points and 10 rebounds is a testament to KJ's brilliance at doing what he does despite his teammates forgetting about him in the closing minutes. First he gets robbed of POY honors and now this...for a guy that will go down as one of the best players in WVU basketball history and who plays the game with as much heart as Kevin does, he deserves better. I just hope he has the chance for one last run in the NCAA tournament.
Speaking of the tournament, I don't think we're in danger of missing out on a bid, even with today's loss. I mean, it's not like we got blown out by DePaul or something. We'll still get in, and probably end up as a 10 or 11 seed somewhere. But man, this hurts. It hurts that we couldn't make one more run to stick it to the Big East. Alas, we're out. Done. Finished. Hasta la vista, Big East. It's time to let bygones by bygones and focus on the future. Hopefully a future that includes our Mountaineers figuring out a way to close out games.