The end arrived sooner than Bob Huggins could have imagined and his team would have liked.
West Virginia was defeated in the quarterfinal round of the Big 12 Tournament Thursday, ending the audacious idea the team with four conference wins in the regular season would or could win four times in four days to take the only available avenue to the NCAA Tournament. Huggins was ejected after he received two technical fouls at the 9:58 mark of the first half.
“I’m going to stand up for my guys,” Huggins said after the 87-64 defeat. “I have never not stood up for my guys. It is what it is.”
The question now is whether that actually was the end of the 2021-22 basketball season. The Mountaineers don’t think it is.
“We’ve got more games to play,” Huggins said. “We’ll get home and have them rest for a day or so and we’ll get back at it and get ready to bring home a trophy. That’s what we do. That’s what we set our goals for every year. It’s obviously not going to be the one that we wanted, but it’s going to be a trophy that is well worth bringing home.”
That means Huggins and the Mountaineers intend to play in the NIT or the CBI. Athletic director Shane Lyons told EerSports Thursday WVU would play in the NIT if invited. However, an invitation is far from a sure thing. WVU is 16-17 overall with 15 losses in the last 18 games and is No. 78 in today’s NET Rankings.
The NIT has a selection process that’s already underway to identify its 32 participants. It can pick teams with losing records, but since it changed that rule before the 2017 event, no team with a losing record has been invited. Butler and Texas were invited with 16-16 records in 2019.
The CBI is now a 16-team event that’s played over five days in Daytona Beach, Florida. VMI has already accepted one of the invitations. Lyons has not weighed in on WVU’s interest in that tournament yet, but he previously said to EerSports that WVU’s roster situation this season is not like it was when the team participated and went 1-1 with two home games in 2019.
WVU rolled into Kansas City one game above .500 and at No. 79 in the NET Rankings. Beating Kansas State, which crumbled at the end of the season with six straight losses before its head coach resigned, and never leading while trailing by as many as 28 points against Kansas didn’t do the Mountaineers any favors.
“I think what happened to Huggs so early was not indicative of how well we could have played,” assistant coach Larry Harrison, who was in charge after Huggins was ejected, said in his postgame radio interview. “I think the guys were kind of shook all of a sudden when that happened. I think we got it together a little bit in the second half, but I think we were a little stunned when that happened.”
WVU trailed 18-4 in the middle of the first half when Taz Sherman drove for a layup and missed amid contact near the basket. That was WVU’s 16th miss in its first seven shots, and Sherman was certain he’d been fouled. He barked at referee Doug Sirmons, who whistled Sherman for a technical foul. Huggins got involved, which drew a technical, a pause and a second technical from Sirmons.
Huggins said he’s “not surprised by much” for as long as he’s been coaching, though he was alarmed by the “dinky” televisions in the locker room that made it hard for him to watch the rest of the game.
“Obviously, we can’t comment on the officials. I didn’t think he was in jeopardy of getting the second technical,” Harrison said. “That just doesn’t happen. I really wasn’t concerned about the second one. The first one, you get the ref’s attention. The second one came pretty quick. The staff and players were kind of stunned, and I think that partly led to the run continuing in the first half. We just tried to keep it together in the second half as best as we could.”
WVU did summon a few spurts in the second half and caused Kansas to call two timeouts before encountering further danger after TCU won the day’s first game by erasing a 20-point deficit against Texas. The closest the Mountaineers got was 57-43 with 11:01 to go. Kansas responded with a 14-2 run and would eventually double that 14-point margin with an 84-56 lead.
“I think we were all disappointed, not saying good or bad, but you hate that Bob wasn’t on the bench,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I know it was disappointing for them, but nobody wants that. We caught a big break there. It’s not a break that we wanted. I thought other than about the first five or six minutes of the second half, I thought we were pretty solid. I thought we played pretty well.”
“I think the question is, ‘Do they want to play?'” Huggins said of his players. “I asked them that, and they want to play. I enjoy coaching them. I enjoy certainly representing West Virginia University and the great state of West Virginia. Anything we can do to represent that state and the people in that state, I’m all for.”