By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Losses are always the black cloud that ruins a sunny day, the drop of rain on a Sunday picnic, the pimple on the check that pops up the afternoon of the senior prom.
It really doesn’t matter if they are by 15 points or five, or if they come to a nationally ranked team or to a team struggling to reach .500.
You are not out there to lose and when you do it is a failure, a blow to the heart and to the ego.
That said, some hurt more than others and the one West Virginia suffered Saturday afternoon was a difficult one to swallow, the kind that feels like a kick in the gut and that takes more than a night of frivolity to forget.
That it came to Kansas State, the team Bob Huggins once coached, added to despair. That it came on the home court multiplied the emotion.
That it came by a point, 65-64, and that it should have been a victory … well, listen to Eron Harris, the freshman from Indianapolis who nearly turned it into a victory, and understand the feeling.
“Everybody’s heads were down. It shouldn’t be down because we worked hard but everyone’s down.
“It’s a down attitude right now,” he said.
Let us go back to Harris for a moment. In West Virginia’s last game, that being at Texas and in some ways being this same game in reverse, for it was one they pulled out, Harris had a huge hand in that, hitting a crucial baseline jumper that put the game into overtime.
This time he had another shot at winning it, 21 seconds left, down a point, again he hit a tricky, difficult baseline jumper, putting the Mountaineers in front.
“I was lucky,” he admitted.
K-State was luckier, for they found a way to run their season record to 13-2 and pull it out in that 21-second span that seemed like an eternity.
And that is why the pain was still there a half hour after the game as the players talked about it.
“We set high expectations for ourselves,” Dominique Rutledge had said. “We came in expecting to blow them out really. We know they’re a tough team, but we felt like we should have won that game.”
With 9 seconds left Shane Southwell had been fouled and turned the one-point lead Harris’ jumper had given the team into a one-point deficit.
But WVU had the ball, they had a play that coach Bob Huggins had confidence in and they had time.
What they didn’t have was any luck, for the play got fouled up when Jabarie Hinds, who was to shoot the ball being in the midst of his best game of the season with 15 points, slipped and the ball was tipped away from him.
And when Gary Browne ran it down and drove to the basket, he ran into that dratted Southwell, who stuffed his shot and it was over.
All eyes were on that one play, but Harris was willing to show wisdom beyond his years in his analysis of what happened.
“It comes down to possessions early in the game, possessions we gave up we could have worked a little bit harder for. We shouldn’t have had to do that last play, too,” Harris said.
And then there was another matter.
West Virginia had been a team that had scored a higher percentage of its points on free throws than any team in the six power conferences, but K-State seemed to have their free throws well defended, if you get the drift.
WVU took 22 free throws and made only 12, Hinds suffering through a 1 for 6 day.
Why would spirits be down when the opposing team tried to give you a game and you wouldn’t take it?
Huggins, of course, couldn’t accept the fact that this was an improved showing, that his team had played a ranked team to the wire and should have won.
He wants more. He wants smiles in the locker room.
For all he found good, he found more bad.
“I thought we competed for the most part. The problem is we don’t do it for a consistent period of time. Did all nine guys who played compete? Absolutely not. Most of them did. When your guy is dunking it at one end and you haven’t got to the foul line yet, you are probably not competing real hard.
“And I think three times we had transition deals and they steal the ball when we are dribbling it. That is hard to do when you have a guy coming full speed down the floor and if the guy is protecting the ball and not fouling the guy, it’s not hard. We didn’t protect the ball very well.”
And so now the Mountaineers are 8-7 and 1-2 in the Big 12.
There’s nothing to celebrate.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.