By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It was a scene that that, if snapped by a photographer, would sweep all of the awards they have to offer, for it summed up all you needed to know about this West Virginia Saturday.
Two players, a senior and a freshman, standing there — the senior, Kevin Jones, his arms wrapped firmly around the freshman, Gary Browne, whose head he buried in Jones’ shoulder – the freshman fighting back tears, holding the anger within, the senior trying to comfort and console him.
Moments earlier, in a another basketball game that had gone down to the wire, another West Virginia win that had turned into a difficult defeat, 77-74, to Louisville, Browne was on his hands and knees, his forehead resting on the floor.
A day that had begun with him making his first Mountaineer start ended in a basketball tragedy, if anything so insignificant as a single sporting event can end in tragedy. He had tried one final pass with his team down a point, one pass he tried to thread to Jones for one final, winning shot.
Jones was open, yes, but the ball had go through a maze of Louisvillians, and they went after it like a hungry lion goes after a gazelle, Kyle Kuric snatching it out of the air before it could get to Jones.
Browne immediately grabbed Kuric for a foul that would produce the final free throws after Browne had dropped to the floor, part in frustration, part in exhaustion. Jones bent over him like a father over a son had fallen off his skateboard, helped him up then embraced him.
“A kid like Gary, he’s a very emotional kid,” Jones would explain later. “When a play like that happens, he takes it to heart. You have to console him and comfort him a little bit. It’s tough to have a play like that, especially as a freshman.”
“As soon as he threw the pass he kind of went down. I told him we don’t need that right now. We still have five seconds left. We have time to tie this game, put it into overtime and win. We’ve been really good in overtime. “
But there wasn’t enough time for Kuric went down and canned the two clutch free throws, and the best WVU could offer in retaliation was an off-balance desperation air ball of a 3 by Truck Bryant just before the final buzzer gave Louisville its sixth straight victory while WVU’s fell to 16-10 with its fifth loss in the last six games.
If Jones was going to console Browne, his coach, Bob Huggins, was in no mood to do the same.
“We got a stop and Gary throws it away with five seconds to go and we got a chance. It’s the end of the game and they are not going to foul you. Get the ball to the basket,” Huggins said. “He is trying to get it to K.J. and K.J. wasn’t in the post. He tries to throw it through people.
“They are trying. We just got to stop all the ‘ifs and buts’. What I told them is I am tired of ‘ifs’ … ‘if we would do this right, if would do that, if we wouldn’t do this.’”
The problem with criticizing Browne for making a pass to Jones in this situation is that all year the idea has been to get the ball to Jones, the clutch player, one who produced his 17th double-double in this game with 22 points and 11 rebounds.
The “ifs,” most certainly, have taken what could be a really good West Virginia team and turned it into one that is teetering on being an NIT team, and Bob Huggins was not brought into West Virginia to coach NIT teams.
The players know it, and there is a sense of frustration and, yes, panic setting in.
“I’d be lying if I said no one is panicking, but fear is good for us right now,” Kevin Jones said. “It will hopefully make us play better, play harder and come together more as a team. If that’s what it takes, then I think it will be a good thing.”
The words were echoed by Deniz Kilicli, who had something of good and bad day in this one himself, scoring 17 points but drawing a rather foolish technical foul that put him on the bench for long periods and eventually led to him fouling out.
“Fear is a good thing. It always is,” he said. “Look in the wars. People are scared for their lives. That’s why they do whatever they can do, giving 200 percent, because they don’t want to die.”
And the situation they now face with five games to go can be compared to death in a sporting sort of way.
“We are fighting for our lives,” Bryant admitted. “That’s the perfect way to put it. We’ll go down fighting, or we won’t go down.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter twitter.com/bhertzel.