The trip for three games to the Old Spice tournament in Kissimmee in central Florida only partially removed the acrid taste West Virginia had in its mouth from the season-opening loss it took in Spokane when frosted by Gonzaga.
The field in the Old Spice was not ripe with national contenders. Gonzaga ripped through its three games, polishing off Clemson, Oklahoma, and Davidson to remain unbeaten.
West Virginia smothered the eight-team field’s weakest team, Marist, in the first round.
In the second round the next day, the Mountaineers saw Davidson, which had downed Vanderbilt on the first day.
The Wildcats had an 8-0 run of points just before halftime to overcome an early deficit and get even at 30-30. In the second half, West Virginia faltered early when Davidson scored the first nine points.
Even though it would get nine more rebounds than the Wildcats, the Mountaineers had center Aaric Murray harnessed by his foul trouble. Murray carried four fouls to the bench only six minutes into the last half. He would foul out with about two minutes remaining.
Juwan Staten made a steal and scored as WVU crept within one point with about a minute to play. But Davidson wouldn’t be caught and took a 63-60 win into the championship game against Gonzaga.
Staten had 15 points and reserve Gary Browne scored 11 points. Deniz Kilicli had a team-high 11 rebounds and finished with 10 points in his 28 minutes.
Davidson was 17-for-22 from the foul line and WVU was only 8-for-17 (47 percent) to make its attempt at a valid comeback even more difficult.
In the third-place game on Sunday, the Mountaineers faced Oklahoma, which had fallen to Gonzaga in its second game.
Kilicli and Murray were in foul trouble. Kilicli played only 23 minutes and Murray had 22 minutes.
Oklahoma outshot the Mountaineers (47 percent to only 36 percent) from the field as both teams made their free throws.
The Sooners moved to a small second-half lead. And they kept it in winning, 77-70. Browne made 10-of-11 free throws for most of his 13 points. Staten was 5-for-8 from the field and 5-for-6 from the foul line to score 15 points and Kilicli was around long enough to deliver 13 points.
But Jabarie Hinds, Terry Henderson, and Browne were a combined 5-for-22 from the field. And West Virginia was saddled with a 1-3 overall record to bring to its first game at the Coliseum on Nov. 28 (Wednesday) against Virginia Military Institute.
The Keydets are 3-3 overall with wins over Old Dominion, Elon, and Central Pennsylvania College. The losses were to The Citadel, Army, and Virginia Tech.
Next Wednesday, Dec. 5, the Mountaineers will go to Charleston to face Marshall in a game that comes before any Big 12 games are played. Next Saturday, Dec. 8, Virginia Tech comes to the Coliseum for another non-conference game.
Even if it’s just four games into the season, the Mountaineers need to win all three of these games against VMI, Marshall, and Virginia Tech.
Additional non-conference slips will only mean winning more and more in the conference against the likes of Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma.
Bob Huggins has reached the NCAA tournament in all five of his seasons back in Morgantown. A few more non-conference losses and the Mountaineers will be struggling to stay above the .500 mark all season long.