The college basketball season ended suddenly and unceremoniously yesterday with conference tournaments and eventually the NCAA Tournament all deciding to cancel in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.
In a matter of hours, the entire 2019-20 college basketball season was over. The Mountaineers finish the season with a 21-10 record, 9-9 in the Big 12. The team was scheduled to play Oklahoma in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament Thursday night before it was canceled.
WVU seniors Jermaine Haley, Chase Harler and Logan Routt ended their careers, not on the floor, but most likely in hotel rooms, mentally preparing to play a game that would not come.
Despite all the negative, however, West Virginia’s season did end on a high note.
After stumbling through the month of February, losing six of seven games at one point, the Mountaineers rebounded in their final week of play. In the final week of the regular season, West Virginia defeated both Iowa State on the road and upset then-No. 4 Baylor in a spectacular senior day contest.
If the season had to end early, ending it on WVU’s season-finale upset of the Bears may have been the best option available.
The Bears came into Morgantown on March 7 needing a bit of a rebound themselves. They had just been upset by TCU the weekend prior and narrowly defeated Texas Tech in their mid-week game.
Before the game, WVU honored the careers of Haley, Harler and Routt with the celebration capped off by Harler proposing to his longtime girlfriend Lindsey Baker in front of the sellout crowd in the Coliseum.
“This is number one, not even close,” Harler said of the proposal. “This is, to this point, probably the greatest moment of my life so far.”
Then the game started, and it was not looking good for West Virginia early on. Baylor jumped out to a 9-0 lead over WVU. The Mountaineers missed their first seven shots and committed four turnovers before scoring a single point.
From that point on, however, West Virginia more or less dominated the No. 4 team in the county. WVU held Baylor to just one made basket for the next nine of play, going on a 19-2 run. The old Coliseum shook as the fans cheered on the home team in that stretch.
West Virginia had built up leads like this on top-ranked teams before this season, blowing halftime leads in both games played against the Kansas Jayhawks. When the second half started it looked like the Mountaineers were on track for that to happen again.
The Bears wrestled the lead away from WVU, leading 33-28 five minutes into the second half. This game was different, however. Bob Huggins’s young team did not fold in the face of adversity. They did not retreat into their shell and lose the ability to score like they did against Kansas earlier in the month. Led by their seniors, West Virginia went on one of its best runs of the season.
Haley had started just about every game this season at shooting guard. At 6-foot-7 he presents match-up nightmares when defending smaller guards, forcing smaller opponents to have to shoot over him. Even Iowa State’s Tyrese Haliburton, one of the best players in the Big 12, struggled with Haley on him.
Huggins had been touting Haley’s versatility ever since the Vancouver native got to WVU in 2018-19. Haley spends time playing in four different spots most games, but the team only needed him to play one against Baylor.
With freshman Miles McBride out with three fouls, Huggins played Haley at point guard midway through the second half. It was exactly what the team needed, as the Mountaineers proceeded to go on a 20-4 run that sealed the game and secured one of WVU’s biggest wins of the season.
“It’s rough,” Huggins said of senior days following the win. “It’s hard to hold keep your emotions in check.”
While they could not have known that win over Baylor was going to be their final game on the year, it might have been the perfect way to send off the 2019-20 Mountaineers.