By Bill Nestor
The West Virginia University men’s basketball team has been battling uphill all season long. Interim Head Coach Josh Eilert has been under the microscope since the season began. The Mountaineers have shown marked improvement, which led to a significant win over Texas. It was the first win over a top 25 opponent for Eilert and it provided confidence in his squad, and more importantly, his abilities to make in-game adjustments as well as personnel moves.
A few days later, WVU shocked the world and put the Big 12 Conference on notice when they upset number three Kansas in Morgantown. The Mountaineers broke a halftime tie, outsourcing the Jayhawks 40 to 34 in the second half to pull the upset and give Eilert a true signature win. A season high 12,208 fans were in attendance to provide a true home court advantage. It took the fuel from the fans, coupled with exceptional play from nearly every West Virginia player that stepped on the hardwood to earn that victory.
RaeQuan Battle netted 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Patrick Suemnick scored 20 points and nabbed six caroms. Kerr Kriisa hit for 15 points on three of four shooting from deep. Seth Wilson just missed double digits with nine points on three of three shooting from three-point range. Quinn Slazinski chipped in with eight points and five rebounds. Noah Farrakhan put in four points, dished out a game-high six assists, and pulled in five caroms.
The Mountaineers brought their hats and lunch pails and went to work on the glass, outrebounding Kansas 31 to 22 in the affair. Eilert took dead aim on the Jayhawks prior to the tilt with some exceptional pregame preparation while his players took laser-focused aim during the actual lock-up, providing a shooting exhibition unlike any other this season. WVU was 12 for 21 in three-point shots, which equates to 57 percent.
The hosts were impressive from the floor overall, hitting 29 of 56 shots (52 percent.)
The Mountaineers were flying high after the Kansas win, but that was short-lived as they suffered a humbling setback the next time out, last Tuesday against the University of Central Florida. The 13-point defeat was a reminder that an “A” effort is needed every night out, especially on the road, in the Big 12 Conference. It always seems like the calls don’t go your way (on the road) and the free money attempts at the foul line don’t seem to present themselves as much. In the win over Kansas at the Coliseum, the Mountaineers were 21 for 25 from the foul line. In Tuesday’s setback against the Knights, the Eers were just six of 10 from the stripe. Less calls equals less trips to the line, which means lower point production. When the Mounties shocked the world, they almost hit triple digits (91 versus the Jayhawks.) In the loss last week, they barely made it half way to 100 (59 points at UCF.) Against the number three team in all of the land, three starters scored in double digits, but when they squared off against the unranked Knights, there were no starters in double figures.
The telling number in the equation is seven. It’s the number of wins at home this season for West Virginia and it is the total number of victories this squad owns. Eilert must prove that he can win on the road if he wants to remove the interim from his title. He needs a handful of victories away from Touchdown City for his team to grow the confidence needed to make a postseason run. The next few weeks will definitely tell the tale of this season.