Then Saturday another talented team, Kansas State, rolled into Morgantown. The Mountaineers had started to prove the fact that they can win games against better teams, but the next step was to show that they could defend their home court and do what they need to do to hold on in those.
It doesn’t seem hard to do, but winning close games – against good teams – is something West Virginia just hasn’t been able to do for the last few seasons.
On Saturday, this team took another jump up in its 81-71 win against the Wildcats.
There were plenty of chances for WVU to do what it has done most of the season. Like it has in other games, the Mountaineers were able to jump out to a big lead when they were ahead by double figures, only to see it slowly begin to slip away.
But unlike games like its Gonzaga loss, when West Virginia led by 10 only to suffer a disappointing loss on its home court, WVU found a way to do what it needed to do to leave the Coliseum floor victorious. And it did it in a fairly unconventional way.
Eron Harris, who has been one of the team’s best scorers all season, found himself on the bench for the final four minutes while Juwan Staten didn’t score for six minutes down the stretch before scoring six of the Mountaineers’ final eight points in the game’s last minute to cap the best game of his career. The junior point guard continued his strong season, scoring 35 points, grabbing four rebounds to go with five assists and just two turnovers – a stat line that hasn’t been seen at West Virginia since Lowes Moore finished with 37 points, four rebounds and five assists in 1978.
But the Mountaineers didn’t solely rely on Staten in order to win. It was able to get some good plays from their role players, and also caught a few breaks from Kansas State down the stretch.
With the Wildcats threatening, cutting the WVU lead to 68-67 with a little more than three minutes to play, WVU got the big shot it was looking for with a Remi Dibo three from the wing that kept the momentum in WVU’s favor.
Good teams are going to be able to do that. Especially at home.
You have to be able to win games like this at home if you want to be looked at among some of the better teams in a league like the Big 12.
The way it looks now, the Mountaineers are starting to build a lot of momentum heading into another winnable home game against Oklahoma. Just like Saturday’s contest, it’s one this team needs to win if it wants to be taken seriously as a threat to win games in this conference. You have to win games at home and then find ways to be successful in your road games.
This team is learning what it needs to do in order to be successful. It’s starting to come into its own and know what it is as a team.
Last year, the Mountaineers couldn’t find an identity – and they suffered for it.
This season, armed with one of the best point guards to ever wear a West Virginia jersey and a few weapons that can step up and make plays, it looks like this team is starting to find its way on the right track.
And it will be a lot easier for the Mountaineers to continue to see progress if they can keep defending their home court.