MORGANTOWN (AP) - Bob Huggins didn’t take much time Tuesday night to do what he felt was right. His West Virginia team surrendered a 15-point second-half lead, missed two-thirds of the shots and lost to Duquesne to drop to 4-4.
“This is my job to fix it and I will fix it,” he said. “It’s 100 percent my fault. It’s my job. I’m the one who’s supposed to coach them. I’m the one who recruited them. I’ve got to get them better.”
It all sounded so tidy and simple, but the truth is there’s only so much Huggins can do to rescue the Mountaineers from their very real and very frustrating offensive problems. And on top of that, there’s only one way out of this scoring funk.
WVU must shoot and score.
Until that happens, opponents are going to give the Mountaineers outside shots and take away the inside opportunities.
“When they don’t chase you, there’s nothing else you can do,” Huggins said. “I’m sitting there looking at my play card trying to figure out how to get guys out of the lane. If you’re not going to make (shots), they’re just going to stand in there.”
WVU is shooting just 26.4 percent from 3-point range, which is actually worse than the 29.8 percent from last season that ranked as the worst rate in school history, and ranks No. 326 out of 345 Division I teams.
The inaccuracy isn’t limited from the 3-point line, though. WVU is shooting just 39 percent overall, which is No. 306 nationally.
Another challenge comes Saturday against No. 3 Michigan in the Winter Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Wolverines (10-0) still play Coach John Beilein’s 1-3-1 zone, which pressures shooters from distorting angles.
“We’ve played it, so I think at least conceptually we have an idea what’s supposed to happen,” Huggins said.
The Wolverines play plenty of man-to-man and would be no less capable of doing what others have against the Mountaineers.
WVU gets 67.9 percent of their points in the paint or at the free-throw line and the opposition knows it. Duquesne followed a script and simply sagged off the Mountaineers’ perimeter players and guarded the paint.
WVU’s two low post players combined for eight points, but even worse was that Deniz Kilicli and Aaric Murray took just 12 shots. Kilicli took 19 by himself against a Marshall team that he said had big defenders who “didn’t want to guard.”
“The last two games, you guys saw it. You watched the game, too,” Kilicli said. “They put everyone in the paint. I’m not the only one seeing it, am I?”
He is not alone and the constant tactic bothers the perimeter players, too.
“It’s tough catching the ball and seeing somebody play off of you because your first instinct is to shoot the ball,” freshman Terry Henderson said.
The Mountaineers might have to get used to it. Duquesne’s defense came one game after the Mountaineers made 10 of 24 3-pointers against Virginia Tech’s sunken defense. Huggins said Henderson shot “as well as anybody can shoot the ball” in Monday’s practice and that Jabarie Hinds had been working his way out of his rut by spending more time in the practice facility than anybody other than Kevin Noreen, who’s renowned for his constant presence there.
The Mountaineers were hoping it all might discourage the defensive trend that dates back to last season, but the Dukes were not duped.
“The other guys watch film, too, and they’re going to keep putting everyone under the basket,” Kilicli said. “If you lose, they’re going to keep doing it all year.”
Unless something changes, which is all the Mountaineers can hope for until it happens.
“Those guys can make all those shots,” Kilicli said. “They worked on it all summer. I saw it myself. Before the season, I told all you guys we were going to be able to make shots. Apparently we can’t now.”
In eight games, WVU’s most prolific 3-point shooters are Henderson, Hinds and Matt Humphrey. Each has six 3s. The best percentages belong to Murray and Noreen, a pair of 6-foot-10 players. Murray is 3-for-6 and Noreen 2-for-3. The best percentage for a guard is Eron Harris’ 33.3 percent.
The opposition is giving them space and daring them to shoot so that the defense can better guard the paint. WVU’s perimeter shooting is such a weakness that the other teams have all but ignored it to take away the only other option inside.
Defenses are surrounding Kilicli and the crowd makes it hard for his teammates to not only pass it to him, but also to drive toward the basket.
“This season has been a struggle for me to score because there’s been three people, four people on me all the time,” said Kilicli, who averages 9.9 points and shoots 41 percent (30-for-73) from the floor. “It’s tough. You can’t turn. You get the ball with your back turned and you’ve got to turn one way or the other, but you’ve got a guy here and a guy there.”
If he gets the ball, the defense collapses, which makes it hard to make a move or to pass the ball back to the perimeter. He has teammates open there, but if they get the ball and a good shot, a basket is not yet guaranteed with this group.
“We’ve just got to continue to shoot the ball,” Huggins. “They’re going to start going in and then we’ll get some confidence and we’ll be fine. I think everybody goes through this at some point during the season. It’s just very rare that you go through it at the beginning of the season like this.”