MORGANTOWN - There's no question that what disappointed Bob Huggins most about West Virginia's Tuesday night basketball game against Robert Morris was what he saw in front of him during the game's first 20 minutes and 24 seconds.
Running a close second, though, was what he saw - or, more pointedly, didn't see - behind him and around him.
And that would be people - Mountaineer basketball fans, to be precise.
Not that anyone missed anything extraordinary by staying away in droves for a game against Robert Morris, mind you. In fact, as the Mountaineers trudged through those first 20-plus minutes and played the Colonials to a virtual 32-31 draw, the 7,557 who could have been there but weren't seemed a lot smarter than the 6,443 who were there but perhaps wondered why they had bothered on a cold, snowy weeknight.
The latter group was rewarded, of course, when West Virginia outscored RMU 50-18 the rest of the way. But it took a tried and true Huggins tactic of yanking his five best players 24 seconds into the second half and replacing them with five others to ignite the outburst.
Afterward Huggins talked about why he did it. But he couldn't help but toss in his disappointment with the crowd along with his disappointment in his best players.
"I've got great respect for the game and the way the game is supposed to be played,'' Huggins said. "And the 6,334 that showed up deserved a little bit better, you know?''
Then he paused.
"I think that's what it was,'' Huggins said before glancing down at the line on the boxscore where the official attendance was recorded. "No, 6,443. I'd hate to short them.''
The only thing surprising about that little barb was that Huggins wasn't precise about the crowd right off the bat. What, he didn't count the fannies in the seats himself?
"I could have,'' he said. "And there was a point in the first half when I thought that might be more appealing.''
For the record, that crowd of 6,443 was the smallest at the Coliseum in three years. Inexplicably, the only two home crowds that were smaller came in Huggins' second and third games after returning to his alma mater in 2007. True, they were against Prairie View A&M and Maryland-Eastern Shore, but remember, this was a fan base that had been clamoring for his return for years. In his second and third games as coach, less than 6,000 showed up.
Crowds have improved dramatically in the three years since then. Twelve of last year's 15 home dates drew 10,000 or more (including three of the top seven crowds in the building's history) and only one was under 9,500.
But it took a team on its way to a school-record 31 wins and the first Final Four appearance in half a century to lure those fans.
Would it be nice to have that carrot at the end of the stick every year? Sure, but it's just not going to happen.