MORGANTOWN — The majority of this season’s West Virginia University men’s basketball roster falls into one of two categories ahead of Saturday’s game against former Big East rival St. John’s (noon on FS1).
These Mountaineers can be split up into players making their first trip to Madison Square Garden or players trying to forget their most recent trip to the “World’s Most Famous Arena.”
That extends even to the veteran West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, who watched his Mountaineers lose 66-56 to Florida one year ago Thursday in the Jimmy V Classic at MSG.
In that game, WVU shot just 19 of 64 from the floor as Chase Harler’s 11 points led the Mountaineers in a all-around ugly game.
Harler, along with current Mountaineers Logan Routt, Emmitt Matthews, Jordan McCabe, Jermaine Haley and Brandon Knapper, all appeared in that game and accounted for 10 of West Virginia’s 21 turnovers. This season, Huggins said he hopes the players who were around have a short memory when it comes to that game.
“I hope they’re like me and they don’t even remember it,” Huggins said. “I don’t remember what happened. Let’s go play. We’re playing St. John’s, let’s go play.”
For the players that were not around the West Virginia program last season, Saturday’s game is a first chance to play on one of the biggest stages the sport has to offer.
Huggins said this team has been good at not dwelling too much on the past or looking too far ahead, and he hopes to see that continue with a win in New York City.
“It means we’re 8-0 and we come home for two before we go to Youngstown,” Huggins said. “I think our guys have been pretty good at taking them one at a time. To me, (playing at Madison Square Garden) is a huge opportunity. I can remember as a sophomore getting ready to go play in Madison Square Garden — I was giddy.”
Huggins recalled a story of arriving at the arena to warm up and the New York Knicks of Willis Reed and Bill Bradley were still on the floor and how excited he and his teammates were to just occupy the same space as those players.
“I think they’re excited about it,” Huggins said, looking ahead to Saturday’s game against the Red Storm. “I don’t know that it’s what it once was, but still, that’s the place. Like the old song — if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”
WVU, MSG ties run deep
Saturday’s game will be West Virginia’s 89th appearance at Madison Square Garden and the 19th time Huggins has led the Mountaineers into the arena.
WVU played its first game at the old MSG on March 17, 1942 against Long Island and played at least one game in the arena every season between 1942 and 1963. The Mountaineers returned to MSG regularly, but not annually, throughout the 1970s but went seven years between games in 1981 against Purdue and 1988 against Rhode Island. After that loss to the Rams, it was another eight seasons before West Virginia took on Seton Hall in the 1996 Big East tournament there.
Since then, West Virginia has been an almost annual fixture at MSG, including in 2010 when WVU won it’s only Big East tournament championship at the arena before advancing to the Final Four in that season’s NCAA tournament.
In 88 games played at MSG — both the current version and the previous one which closed in 1968 — WVU has won 36 games and lost 52, including five of its last six games dating back to the 2011 Big East tournament.
Huggins is 10-8 as the WVU coach there and started his tenure at West Virginia with a win against St. John’s late in the regular season before winning two more games at MSG to lead the Mountaineers to the 2008 Big East tournament semifinals.