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Purdue leaves Mountaineers lump of coal

MORGANTOWN - On Christmas Eve's eve's eve, there were plenty of holiday trimmings in and around the WVU Coliseum on Sunday.

In the end, though, the hosts weren't thinking about ornaments, tinsel or mistletoe. That's because they were hung with another non-conference loss against a decent opponent. And part of the reason was easy to spot in West Virginia's 73-70 loss to a very beatable Purdue team.

See, the Mountaineers might be able to string lights, but they just don't string baskets together very well.

At home, in front of a nice holiday crowd of 10,019, against a Boilermaker team that started two sophomores and a freshman, WVU again struggled putting together runs.

One simply had to listen to public address announcer Bill Nevin.

In the second half, needing a spark, Eron Harris appeared to be one. He made a ball fake then hit a turnaround jumper to pull WVU within 42-39.

Nevin was heard just seconds later.

"Basket by Johnson."

There are no Johnsons on the Mountaineer roster.

Later, WVU's Juwan Staten earned a 3-point play the old-school way. That was followed by this:

"Stephens with a three."

Again, there are no players named Stephens on WVU's team.

We saw Devin Williams, who played a nice game for the Mountaineers, hit a pair of free throws. We heard the crowd making its presence felt. And then, again, there was Nevin.

"Basket by Johnson."

There are 12 days of Christmas. And about as many reasons for the disorder. There are WVU defensive lapses. There are many, many missed chippies. There are mind-numbing miscues.

Mountaineer guard Terry Henderson missed a 3-point attempt from the corner that fell short like a field-goal attempt into the wind. It fell to teammate Remi Dibo's foot, who kicked the ball out of bounds. There was Dibo's lane violation on a made Williams free throw. There was the nice Brandon Watkins shot block that stuck inbounds. Teammate Gary Browne saved it. Then tossed it to a Purdue player. Cue Nevin.

"Carter for a three."

Staten, a junior, attempted to address his team's maladies.

"It's because we're a perimeter-oriented team," Staten said afterward. "If we're knocking down the three, we're OK. If we're not hitting, we struggle. We need to find a way to score inside."

In the paint, though, WVU and Purdue both scored 28 points Sunday.

Defensively?

"It's tough to guard for 35 seconds," Staten said. "We play good defense for 24, 25 seconds and then break down at the end of the shot clock."

That's killing WVU's season. In a big way. At 7-5, with no quality victories, the only question is whether the Mountaineers' season is slipping away or if it's already slipped away. Think about it. Within Big 12 play, WVU will be on the road nine times. Four of the remaining 10 home games (if you count Sunday's William & Mary game in Charleston) are against Associated Press Top 25 teams Oklahoma State (7), Baylor (12), Iowa State (17) and Kansas (18). WVU could improve and still wind up with, say, a 14-17 record.

"It seems to be a trend," Staten said. "We need to stop giving away games at the end."

Realistically, the Mountaineers might have already done so too many times. This Purdue team is one of the weakest I've seen of late. As I wrote previously, Matt Painter started two sophomores and a freshman. He started three guards, which matched up well for WVU. Purdue's tallest starter was 6-foot-9 Travis Carroll, although 7-foot A.J. Hammons played 21 minutes and had 12 rebounds. (Williams, 6-9, offset Hammons with 12 rebounds and 14 more points.)

Purdue, however, had one characteristic WVU did not.

"I thought our guys played with a lot more poise than we have been," Painter said.

"I thought our younger guys came in and stepped up," said Purdue guard Terone Johnson. "We really had a lot of composure."

WVU did not.

"Our offensive execution just isn't very good," said WVU coach Bob Huggins. "You've got a veteran guy [Staten] and we put the ball in his hands after a timeout. We call a set and he's got a guy wide open and [Staten] doesn't throw him the ball. Then we don't ball screen the right guy. I don't know what to do about that."

Within the subject of offensive execution, of course, is the ailment of missing layups and chippies. On one possession, when Staten drove the lane, WVU missed three shots at the rim. Nathan Adrian missed a wide-open layup in the first half. Eron Harris missed a chippy to start the second half. Staten once raced downcourt like a jet - only to miss a jam.

"We aren't a shot-blocking team," Staten said after. "We don't have a 7-footer. So it's tough to simulate that in practice. It's tough to practice going high off the glass."

That, of course, only goes so far. As Huggins said, his Mountaineers aren't going to make all of their shots, but they have to make some - especially from close range. On Sunday, they hit but 36.9 percent of all field-goal attempts and 16.7 percent from 3-point range.

Now, WVU's players and staff break for the holiday.

"We're definitely not in a good mood," Staten said. "It's a game we needed to win. We wanted to win before going home. Hopefully, the guys will be in a gym at home working."

"We need to go home, refuel and step it up," Harris said.

As well as figure a way to string more than Christmas lights.

Merry Christmas, all.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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