Nobody thought that the 2005 West Virginia Mountaineers were anything special. They were supposed to be just a standard John Beilein team - one that would share the ball, shoot it well, and make the right play. They had some talent and experience, sure, but they weren't anybody's pick to shake up the Big East landscape or make much noise come March.
Early Big East play seemed to validate these suspicions. After running out to a 10-0 record out of conference, we stumbled out of the gate at Villanova (and by stumbled I mean lost by 38) and went on to lose 7 of our first 9 conference games. Then Pitt visited the Coliseum and everything changed. An 83-78 overtime victory sparked a run of 3 wins in 4, which brings us to February 23rd, 2005, and the Mountaineers traveling to the Pete for the bottom half of the season series against Carl Krauser, Chevy Troutman, and the 18th-ranked Panthers. I don't know if I'll ever have a more vivid memory of a game I didn't actually watch live.
You see, Morgantown High was having a little rivalry game of their own that evening, hosting University High in the basketball edition of the Mohawk Bowl. My buddy Andy and I were sat in the student section sharing a pair of earbuds connected to a portable radio - peak technology at that time. And since this was before the days of smartphones and streaming and Twitter, it was our job to not only keep the rest of our student section updated, but any and all interested parties in University's across the court, as well.
The first half didn't offer much to be excited about. Krauser was at his chubby-yet-somehow-effective worst, Troutman was his usual quietly excellent self, and the Mountaineers found themselves facing a double-digit halftime deficit. Even midway through the second half things looked bleak, and at that time, nothing made Mountaineer fans sicker than thought of the Bronx-born Krauser chucking up the "X" on his way to a win. But then, something happened - the Nogle started Nogling.
Kevin Pittsnogle, who just a few weeks later would captivate the nation during our Elite 8 run, started hitting shots. A pick-and-pop 3 from the wing, a baby hook from the block, another pick-and-pop 3. We were beside ourselves, losing our collective shit at times that must have been confusing for the fans that were just there for the high school game. I remember gleefully signaling to my buddy Jake across the court - down 9, down 6, down 4, and eventually, up 2, up 4. Game over.
Everybody knows what happened from there - we closed the season on fire and ran our way to both the Big East Chanpionship and Elite 8, with us fans bearing witness to some of the most iconic moments in recent WVU hoops history along the way. But I'll always believe it started with those two wins against Pitt, with that comeback especially providing a glimpse of what was about to happen over the next month.
I've watched us play Pitt countless times in my 29 years, but as with most things that stay with you as you get older, it's those little details that really make things stick. Two dudes, a portable radio, friends huddled around us, watching friends play out on the court, signalng to friends across the way; that experience stands on its own. I'll never forget it. And best of all, Morgantown won.