Ultimately, WVU held on for a 74-67 win over the Colonels on Sunday at the Coliseum. But despite the current three-game winning streak that has his team at 7-5 heading into Big 12 play, Huggins was thoroughly displeased.
He kept players in the locker room for far longer than usual after a typical win, and his postgame press conference was repeatedly punctuated by stomps of his feet on the elevated stage he sits on for his question-and-answer session, as he tried repeatedly to describe the level of his frustration.
“That might be the dumbest thing I have ever seen in a basketball game,” Huggins said of one player’s decision to help defensively in the post when an EKU player was already trapped, leaving his man wide open beyond the arc.
“[As a player] if I saw some guy get taken out of the game for doing something, I wasn’t going to do that. I may screw up a lot of other things, but I wasn’t doing that. I wanted to stay in the game. I don’t know how you can substitute a guy in and he does the same thing as the guy you took out. I don’t understand that.”
There was plenty for the coach to be upset with after a miserable second half that saw Eastern Kentucky (10-3) rally from what had been a 16-point deficit late in the first half.
Player of the Game
The Colonels tied the game at 61-61 with fewer than five minutes remaining when Ryan Parsons -- a Morgantown native and son of WVU deputy athletic director Mike Parsons -- drilled a 3-pointer from the corner. EKU then took a 63-61 lead on a pair of free throws from Eric Stutz, and most in the crowd of 8,123 groaned and settled in for another close finish against an overmatched opponent.
West Virginia tied things up by working the ball inside to Aaric Murray for a layup. That basket, scored with 4:07 remaining, was the team’s final field goal until the waning seconds when the outcome had already been decided.
Instead, WVU forged a narrow lead thanks to free throw shooting and timely defense. The Mountaineers made 9 of 10 free throws in the final four minutes of play -- part of a 32-of-39 (82.1 percent) performance at the line overall -- to sew up the outcome.
“I’m pleased with our guys’ effort to come back in the second half, but obviously West Virginia deserves a lot of credit,” said EKU coach and former WVU assistant Jeff Neubauer. “They went to the line and shot 82 percent -- a very good basketball team.”
Huggins might have agreed with that bit of praise if the game ended at halftime.
Nothing the Colonels tried in the first half worked against a WVU team that had it all going for once. It shot the ball reasonably well, attacked the interior with aplomb, dominated on the glass and played strong defense.
The Mountaineers shot 46.4 percent in the first half, registered 18 points in the paint, outrebounded EKU 23-15 and held the visitors to 27.6 percent shooting in the opening half. Not surprisingly, WVU went to the locker room with a 35-22 lead.
“They shoot 27 percent in the first half and 63 percent in the second,” said Huggins, still fuming.
“All of a sudden they have momentum going and we’re kind of hanging our heads. Next thing you know, here it comes. It always happens.”
For WVU, guard Juwan Staten scored 17 points and added six assists. Guard Gary Browne came off the bench to add 17 more points. The two combined to shoot 19-of-20 from the line.
Eastern Kentucky was led by guard Glenn Cosey, who finished with 21 points. Guard Mike DiNunno and Orlando Williams each added 10 more.
After a week off for the Christmas holiday, the Mountaineers have another week to prepare before opening Big 12 Conference play against Oklahoma. The Sooners beat WVU 77-70 on Nov. 25 in the Old Spice Classic in Florida.