By Cam Huffman
The start of Big 12 play hasn’t gone as planned for the West Virginia University basketball team, but the Mountaineers will get a chance to step out of its new league — where it’s 1-3 in the early-going — for one final nonconference matchup.
WVU (8-8) will be at Big Ten member Purdue (9-8) today at 2 p.m., in a game that will be broadcast nationally on CBS.
“We would rather not do it,” said Huggins of playing a nonconference road game in the middle of Big 12 play. “It’s a combination of television and not being able to find a suitable date in the pre-conference schedule.”
But Huggins and the Mountaineers really don’t have a choice at this point.
After losing a 69-67 decision in heartbreaking fashion Wednesday at Iowa State, WVU returned home early Thursday morning and was back out on the road Friday for the journey to Purdue.
The Boilermakers aren’t a national power this season, as they’ve been other years when they’ve faced the Mountaineers, but they’re still a solid club that is 3-2 in Big Ten play.
After beating No. 11 Illinois 68-61 on Jan. 5, Purdue lost back-to-back games to No. 18 Michigan State and No. 15 Ohio State, but it was able to get back on track with victories over Penn State and Nebraska the last two times out.
Head coach Matt Painter squad will be looking to gain some momentum against WVU, with a showdown with No. 5 Michigan looming on Thursday.
Terone Johnson is the Boilermakers’ unquestioned star, scoring 13.4 points per game to go along with 4.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists. The junior guard had 18 points and six boards in the win over Nebraska.
Huggins, though, is worried more about his own club than the opponent.
WVU seems to be finding ways to lose, having dropped three of its last four and four of its last nine.
In four conference games, it blow a double-digit second-half lead at home against Oklahoma, beat Texas in overtime, fell to No. 18 Kansas 65-64 after holding the lead in the final seconds and came back from 18 points down in the second half to tie Iowa State, only to watch the Cyclones win 69-67 on a late bucket.
After that loss to ISU, Huggins vowed to go with a smaller lineup for the rest of the season, putting four guards on the floor with one big man, as he did for much of the second half against the Cyclones.
Today will be the veteran coach’s first opportunity to prove that he wasn’t just blowing smoke.