The Mountaineers (17-12, 7-9) lost for the seventh time in nine games, dropping their last chance for a signature regular season win in a 61-60 decision against No. 10 Marquette on Friday night.
It was WVU’s fourth-straight loss at the Coliseum -- a first since 2001-02, when the squad finished the season 8-20.
“This is as frustrated as I’ve been since my first year at Walsh College, when I went home and asked my wife, ‘Do you think I can sell insurance?’” Huggins said. “I can’t do this. I can’t lose like this. It just eats me up. I can’t do it.”
Just like West Virginia’s previous two home losses -- to Notre Dame and Louisville -- the hosts let this one slip in the latter stages. Huggins and company held a lead of as many as 15 points in the second half, when Truck Bryant hit a 3-pointer to make it 37-22.
But with the Golden Eagles (24-5, 13-3) back at essentially full strength, a rally began. Typical Marquette starters Darius Johnson-Odom, Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue all sat out the entire first half to serve suspensions.
“They broke team policy,” Williams said.
The three combined to score 23 second half points, while WVU only managed 28 as a team. Beyond that, they made life easier for Jae Crowder, who just may overtake Kevin Jones for Big East player of the year honors. Crowder scored 26 points to lead all scorers -- many of which came on easy layups, as the visitors scored 36 of their 61 points in the paint.
Player of the Game
It was another poor outing for a Mountaineer defense that has struggled all season long.
“You can’t take plays off,” Huggins lamented. “You can’t stand and stare at the ball.
“The reality is there are a bunch of them that we should take the price of season tickets out of their scholarship, because they have stood and watched the whole year.”
Marquette used a 24-8 run in the second half to take a 46-45 lead when Blue stole a Deniz Kilicli pass and raced to the other end for a dunk. It was the Golden Eagles’ first lead since it was 13-11 near the midpoint of the first half.
West Virginia stayed close and reclaimed the lead when Bryant hit another trifecta (one of his five on the night) to make it 53-52 with just fewer than 5:00 remaining.
But Cadougan and Blue scored layups to give Marquette the edge again, and they never would relinquish it. Indeed, the visitors looked set to cruise down the stretch, as another bad pass from Kilicli led to a pair of free throws from Blue, making it a five-point game with 1:05 left.
WVU attempted a last rally. Bryant made a pair of free throws with 40 seconds remaining, and after a stop, forward Keaton Miles made a reverse layup with 15 seconds to go to make it a one-point game.
The Mountaineers fouled Cadougan, who missed a pair of free throws. Guard Gary Browne fell down near midcourt, but called timeout with 6.6 seconds left to give his team a last shot at a game winner.
It was Bryant, a senior, who tried to be the hero. But his driving attempt was cut off well short of the basket, and he attempted a tough floater in traffic that was nowhere close as the final horn sounded.
That was only the beginning of the drama. Some WVU players stood motionless on the court for some time. Johnson-Odom posed for the Mountaineer Maniacs student section, and Williams one-upped him by dancing a little midcourt jig as “Country Roads” blared from the arena’s public address system after handshakes were exchanged.
Some students responded by throwing items in Williams’ direction, and security guards escorted students out of their sections as the Marquette coach was interviewed by ESPN after the game.
“I apologize,” Williams said. “That was very unprofessional. That is not a great representation of our program and our institution. I was just really excited.”
Corwder led all scorers with his 26 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Blue added 10 in the second half, and Johnson-Odom finished with nine.
“It’s terrible,” Bryant said of the Mountaineers’ defense -- not just Friday, but all season. “Notre Dame shot 61 percent, and Marquette shot 50 [against WVU]. We never used to give up more than 40. That’s rough, going from a great defensive team to giving up everything.”
Bryant led WVU’s effort with 25 points, his most since scoring 32 in a win over Providence on Feb. 5. But Jones had an off night by his lofty standards, making only 5-of-14 shots to score 12 points to go along with six rebounds. Kilicli added eight, but committed five turnovers.
Kilicli refused to talk about team issues after the game.
“What am I going to say?” he said, his head down. “For the last two games, I’m the worst piece on the team. If you talk about me, you talk about all the bad stuff. So I just want to talk about me.”
With West Virginia’s postseason fate in doubt, Tuesday’s home finale against DePaul looms large.
The Mountaineers must win both of their last two games to avoid a losing record in Big East regular season play. No Big East team has earned an NCAA tournament at-large berth with a sub-.500 record in regular season league play in 18 years.
“I’m not thinking about the NIT,” Bryant said. “I don’t think we’re going to the NIT. That’s not in my mind.”