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WVU begins busy stretch against St. John's

MORGANTOWN - For a team as young as the one Bob Huggins is coaching this season, almost every experience - every arena, every opponent - is a new one. Sometimes those experiences are a bit overwhelming, too.

The one the Mountaineers are in for tonight, though, is special. And that's not just for the freshmen or even restricted to the players.

"I remember when I was at Cincinnati I'd talk to Oscar [Robertson] and he'd talk about how special it was to play at Madison Square Garden,'' Huggins said Tuesday. "It's the mecca of basketball. It never gets old playing there.''

Beginning a stretch of three games in six days, West Virginia (15-5, 5-2 Big East) goes to the Garden tonight for a 7 p.m. game with St. John's (8-11, 2-6). The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.

Three days later the Mountaineers go back to New York to face No. 3 Syracuse on Saturday afternoon and then return home for a Big Monday game against Pitt.

With Syracuse and its 20-1 record looming beyond a game against the only Big East team with a losing overall record, it might be easy for a team with five freshmen among its top eight players to look past tonight's game with the Red Storm.

Huggins casts aside that notion if for no other reason than the venue.

"Like I told them, they're getting ready to go to the most famous arena in the world,'' Huggins said. "Why would you not be excited about that?''

The game is also a chance to further build on just what Huggins talked about Saturday after his team beat Cincinnati in overtime - experience. At the time he talked about how WVU's difficult non-conference schedule had prepared the Mountaineers for games like that. Playing at the Garden is a lot like those preseason games, too, in that it should prepare West Virginia for the Big East tournament, which will be played at MSG beginning March 6.

"It will help us if we win,'' Huggins said.

In facing St. John's, the Mountaineers are meeting a team going in the opposite direction of late. While West Virginia has won three in a row and five of its last six, the Red Storm has lost four in a row and six of seven. The most recent was a 79-76 overtime loss to Villanova at the Garden on Saturday.

And while WVU is a young team with only three veterans, St. John's is even younger. Four of the Red Storm starters and five of the top seven players are freshmen, and the fifth starter is a junior-college transfer. St. John's consistently uses only seven players.

The Red Storm is also playing without coach Steve Lavin at courtside. Lavin had surgery for prostate cancer in early October, returned to the bench for four games early in the season, but since then has watched most games from a box in the Garden while he recovers.

If that's not bad enough, nine games into the season one of the best of the team's newcomers, guard Nudreen Lindsey, quit the team. Lindsey, who averaged 11.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists, enrolled at Rider earlier this week.

St. John's is led by the Big East's top freshman scorer and No. 2 rebounder, 6-foot-8, 208-pound Moe Harkless, averaging 15.6 points and 8.4 rebounds. Guard D'Angelo Harrison averages 14.6 points. The only upperclassman in the rotation is that junior college transfer, 6-8, 236-pound God'sgift Achiuwa (11.6 points, 6.7 rebounds). The other starters are 6-5 wing Sir'Dominic Pointer and 5-9 point guard Phil Greene.

On the bench are 6-6 Amir Garrett, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds and throws a 96 mile per hour fastball, and the only member of the rotation who was on last year's team, 5-11 guard Malik Stith.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com.

 

 


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