WVU found its beach but no crowd
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The game was in Morgantown, yet it was the Cancun Challenge.
(There's something wrong with that, right? No sunshine. No Coco Bongo or Senor Frog's. No snorkeling.)
Whatever it was called, though, it was West Virginia's night. The Mountaineers drubbed Georgia Southern 101-68 at the Coliseum in a non-conference hoops game.
For WVU, life was a beach. Five players, led by Juwan Staten's 20 points, were in double figures. The team had a 56.3 shooting percentage from the floor. There were 10 treys.
The only mystery left after halftime was if the Mountaineers would hit triple digits. The student section chanted "six more points; six more points" late. Shady Spring's Chase Connor was in there chucking away. Finally, big man Kevin Noreen, who started, converted a layup with 22.2 seconds left to send the hosts to their first 100-point game since the 2007 Maryland-Eastern Shore contest.
Twenty-five minutes before the game, though, I looked around the arena and was moved to tweet.
The scoreboard said it was Huggstown, but it looked like a ghost town.
When the official attendance was announced, it reflected what was tweeted. There were but 4,814 there.
One reply to my tweet came from Huntington St. Joseph Prep coach Rob Fulford.
"Fans don't understand what that does to recruiting in big boy conferences," he wrote. "It matters. Definitely used against [WVU]."
Fulford should know. He has a flock of highly recruited players. Andrew Wiggins, his star from last season, was the nation's No. 1 recruit. He has another loaded roster this year.
When someone pointed out that WVU's opponent wasn't exactly Duke, Fulford replied again. "Shouldn't matter," he said. "If ur recruiting against Duke, Kansas, UK, etc.. Their fans show up whoever they r playing."
Frankly, I go back and forth on the issue. It's the chicken or egg argument. Which comes first, the shiny product with high-flying recruits or the crowd and support?
Coaches across the board say the latter is needed for the former - including WVU's Bob Huggins, in a roundabout way, after Thursday's victory.
"I've tried to do everything I can do," he said. "It's fun when the students show up. Some probably have left [for Thanksgiving break].
"I don't know. We have this notion of being great fans. Great fans come all the time. They come to see their team.
"Don't get me wrong. We have great fans. But not 14,000 of them."
Mountaineer guard Gary Browne sat in the pressroom after the game with one knee and one foot iced. Perhaps appropriately, he chilled when the subject came up.
"I don't blame the fans because we had a terrible year last year," he said. "I appreciate those that came out. We're just trying to win games."
Thursday's game was almost in the bag before it began. After watching film on Wednesday, Huggins said "we should be all right" in a very calm manner. Browne was even more forthright.
"Our goal was to get to 100 points," he said, "and not let them score 50."
"It was a learning game," said fellow WVU guard Eron Harris. "We worked a lot on our offensive game."
Whatever WVU did on Thursday worked. Nathan Adrian was blocking shots. Staten hit a trey. Browne knocked down three. There were 11 Mountaineer steals.
In the end, there was even a little show time with Staten dishing to Terry Henderson for a jam for point No. 92.
Life for the hosts on the night was beachy.
Only one thing was missing.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.