2018-02-07 / Sports

Chip Shots

by Jim Buzzerd

Nick of time

The reeling West Virginia University Men’s Basketball Team went to Ames, Iowa last Wednesday in dire need of a win. The Mountaineers had just lost four of five games after they had ascended to number two in the polls and, while going to Ames is never an easy task, this year’s edition of the Cyclones is not the juggernaut of recent seasons. So WVU went on the road riding a two game losing streak, but as an eight-point favorite. With perhaps the season on the line, the Mountaineers lost 93-77 to the hot shooting Cyclones.

Many, including yours truly, viewed the Iowa State game as an indicator of whether or not this West Virginia team was going to shake off its inconsistent play and regain any semblance of its former self. Well, an uninspired 16-point loss to the last place team in the Big 12 is a poor indicator. All of a sudden WVU had lost five of six games, was 5-4 in the conference and 16-6 overall. A month earlier the Mountaineers were projected as possible one seed and consensus two seed in March, they looked like a team that could struggle just to get in the tournament.

What a difference five days can make. Kansas State came to Morgantown last Saturday to face WVU with identical records for both the season and conference. The difference was that since WVU beat the Wildcats 77-69 in Manhattan on New Year’s Day, the two teams were trending in opposite directions. That, coupled with reports that at least five WVU players were suffering from the flu did nothing to give Mountaineer fans reason for optimism.

Well, much like the game with Texas two weeks earlier, the Mountaineers broke open a tight game with a second half onslaught to win going away by an 89-51 margin. Of course following the Texas win on a Saturday afternoon the Mountaineers had to fly to Dallas the next day for a Monday night game with TCU. A game WVU lost 82-73.

The script was much the same after Saturday’s win over KSU in that WVU had to fly to Norman, Oklahoma Sunday for a Monday night game with the Sooners; a matchup which figured to be at least as difficult as the one with the Horned Frogs. This time the Mountaineers played with energy and survived a closing rush by the Sooners to finish 75-73.

It wasn’t a pretty second half as the Mountaineers scored 50 first half points, led 50-40 at halftime, then struggled to score in the second half. The Sooners’ final shot attempts to tie the game was frantic at the Oklahoma basket as the ball went out of bounds at the buzzer. All of a sudden West Virginia is back in the Big 12 title chase with a pair of home games looming.

The Mountaineers are facing yet another Saturday/Monday situation this week, but the good news is Oklahoma State comes to Morgantown for a noon game Saturday and WVU gets to stay home for TCU’s visit on Monday night. A pair of wins would set up a huge matchup with Kansas at Lawrence next Saturday with a spot at the top of the conference standings quite possibly on the line.

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