West Virginia Wasn't Ready for Red Storm

Christopher Hall

NEW YORK – The West Virginia Mountaineers (7-1) dropped their first game of the season Saturday afternoon to the St. Johns Red Storm 70-68 inside Madison Square Garden.

“We’re young, which is not an excuse, but we’ve got a lot of young guys and we’re coming off of some success and we didn’t handle it very well.,” said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. “Our preparation wasn’t very good. I kept telling them that (St John’s head coach) Mike (Anderson) is a very good coach and he’s going to have his guys prepared and we just didn’t do a very good job.”

West Virginia committed six turnovers inside the first five minutes of the game, and despite the sloppy start, the Mountaineer half-court offense was efficient getting the ball down to their bigs Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe.

“What got us out of what we wanted to run is guys dribbling the damn ball. I mean, everybody who catches it has to make sure that they can dribble it. We got to fix that. We got guys open and we don’t deliver the ball. We got to fix it. That’s my job.”

However, some of the issues were early foul trouble for West Virginia’s frontcourt, changing the dynamic of the game, and the Mountaineers stopped attacking the rim. Instead, they settled for jump shots and despite a West Virginia team that hasn’t shot the ball particularly well this season the game was tied at halftime at 36.

West Virginia continued to be careless with the ball to begin the second half and as a result, the Red Storm built a 10-point lead midway through the second half.

“They shot the ball a little better today and they made free throws today, but I think we enabled them to play pretty good,” said Huggins. “They played well. They really competed; I think that’s the biggest thing. We didn’t rise to their level of aggression. We didn’t rise to their level of competitiveness.”

Even though West Virginia turned the ball over 20 times and trailed by nine with four minutes to play, the Mountaineers put together a 9-0 run with the game-tying bucket coming from a Sean McNeil three-pointer with 1:13 to play in the game.

Then, West Virginia had an opportunity to take the lead with 50 seconds remaining in the game. Nonetheless, the story of the game was the turnovers and the final of the 22 turnovers of the day after an offensive rebound with 24 seconds left may have been the costliest.

After St John’s took a timeout with 16 seconds left, they came out of the huddle and continued their aggressive nature. Rasheem Dunn drove down the left side of the lane and he would slip, but the official saw it differently and called a foul on Derek Culver putting the Dunn at the free-throw line with five seconds remaining. Dunn buried both free throws to give the Red Storm a two-point lead.

Huggins called a 30-second timeout to draw something up for his young group of Mountaineers.

West Virginia got the ball into freshman Deuce McBride and he drove the ball the length of the floor only to settle for a jump shot at the right elbow and it came up short.

“Well, we had just had I thought a very controversial call at the other end, and I thought, ‘drive it at the rim - make them make a call,’” said Huggins. “That was the whole plan. And the whole plan was to curl him off of that guy at the foul line so that his shoulders are already turned up there and keep it in the middle of the floor where you can attack the rim from both sides and we did none of that. And Deuce came down and took a shot that he didn’t need to take, but I mean he’s a freshman. I maybe shouldn’t have put a freshman there, but he was I thought our best option to be able to execute that. We wanted to attack the rim.”

"We weren’t ready to go," Huggins said as he was wrapping up the postgame press conference. "I told our guys that yesterday. I told them, 'you guys are taking a heck of a chance now, you're going to go in there and get whacked because you’re not ready to play,' and our executions sucked. Defensively, we were really bad and offensively we were worse."

West Virginia will be back in action on Thursday to take on Austin Peay at 7:00 inside the WVU Coliseum.