I think the last time I was as intrigued by home crowd hostility as I am tonight was the WVU v. Pitt game at the Petersen Events Center in February 2012.
Refresher: That was the return game after a pretty ugly and oddly officiated game at the Coliseum that was Deniz Kilicli’s debut and the game Tom Herrion was plunked by a projectile.
We should be so lucky to see a game tonight as entertaining as that payback game nine days later at the Pete. (About those comments … for starters, that was pre-live blogging, but maybe more importantly, it was the debut of lcj. Tremendous.) That game was a classic, really, with a lot of great drama and intensity and individual effort, plus the rather obvious backdrop.
Tonight we have two teams that match up stylistically and individually, as well as the rather obvious backdrop we’ll get to in minute. It’s a potent mix because WVU is going into the Hilton Coliseum, where there’s Magic and the average attendance is about double what WVU knows as a home crowd.
The Mountaineers, who are 0-4 in Big 12 road games when the crowd is larger than 10,000, are short-handed tonight as Terry Henderson is still ill and unable to travel and play. But there’s also a bit of motivation at hand for the home team, or as the Cyclones are calling it, “revenge” for a 25-point loss at WVU’s Coliseum and an ugly moment near the end that still resonates.
It was on ISU’s offensive end of the floor where the game turned from a rout to a controversy, when forward Dustin Hogue planted his foot into Kevin Noreen’s midsection on a rebounding attempt and moments later Eron Harris slammed guard Monte Morris’ head as the freshman went up for a layup.
Hogue was assessed a Flagrant 1 and Harris a Flagrant 2 and ejection.
“With some of the plays down toward the end of the game,” ISU’s Melvin Ejim said, “I think both teams have a bitter taste in their mouth with what was going on in that game and for us especially with Monte.”
It was just a little added injury to the insult the Mountaineers had already put on the Cyclones (21-5, 9-5).
“When you lose like that to a team like that who might not have done the best things toward the end of the stretch of that game, it motivates you,” Ejim said, “You want to do better and you want to come out and play well and almost serve back what they gave you.”
Not included: Morris said Staten told him the Harris foul was payback for the Hogue kick, which Staten dismissed as untrue.
But this motivation goes both ways. I don’t think Staten much cared for the accusation, or the publication of it, and WVU is quietly displeased that their guy is made to be the bad guy in the same episode that saw Hogue kick Noreen.
Yet the Mountaineers know where the ire will be aimed tonight. Bob Huggins said Monday he’ll talk to Eron Harris before the game, though Harris, totally true to form, said he doesn’t care about the fans and that they don’t bother him at all.
That said, I get the feeling he’s never been received the way he will be tonight. Maybe I’m wrong, but Juwan Staten has given Hilton a lot of credit and called it the best home crowd in the Big 12. Maybe he’s trying to pacify them, or maybe he, like many others, expects a wild night.
The Mountaineers (15-12, 7-7 Big 12) haven’t said much of anything about it since and are understandably more worried about losing their two games since then, but they’re nevertheless prepared for something different tonight.
“Our game here got a little wild, a little physical the first time, so I’ll definitely be expecting some of that at their home now,” Staten said. “I know their crowd is going to be pumped up. It’s going to be loud. That’s something we need to stress to our guys who haven’t been there. They need to be dialed in from the time we step off the plane until game time.”