West Virginia carries Big East flag again

Devin Ebanks, right, and West Virginia started slowly but got it together to pound Morgan State. AP Photo/Todd Parmington

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- In their hotel rooms on the outskirts of Buffalo, the West Virginia basketball players watched their Big East brethren get picked off like ducks at a carnival shooting gallery.

And then they woke up to the reaction.

“Everyone’s badmouthing the Big East,’’ Da'Sean Butler said. “It was like everyone was jumping on the beat the Big East bandwagon.’’

Duly inspired to represent their league, West Virginia went out and laid a dinosaur egg early.

The Mountaineers sleepwalked through the first nine minutes of their first-round game against Morgan State, digging a 10-0 hole for themselves after missing their first six shots. WVU looked like it had never seen a zone while the Bears drilled the Mountaineers on offense.

When the whistle sounded for a media timeout, WVU huddled up for a decisive teaching point from their head coach.

You could say Bob Huggins inspired his Mountaineers.

“Definitely,’’ Kevin Jones said. “The coaches do a good job inspiring us. I won’t tell you how they inspire us.’’

The R-rated method (just a guess that Huggins wasn’t using cookie and milk promises) worked well for the Mountaineers and ultimately, well for the Big East.

In the 24-hour conference bloodbath, the Mountaineers once more ably carry the league’s reputation.

A week ago in New York City, West Virginia was the only top seed to survive the Black Thursday quarterfinal massacre.

Now in the NCAA tournament the Mountaineers do what they’re supposed to do -- win going away, 77-50, against a lesser team -- while everyone else around them fails miserably.

The Big East can improve its lot in life even more today. Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse all will be in action.

“I can’t speak for everyone else, but the upsets were definitely in the back of my head,’’ Smith said. “You try not to think about it but you also know that it can happen to anybody.’’

It didn’t happen in part because of Huggins’ rallying cry but also because Jones wouldn’t let it. He was every bit as ticked off as Huggins, the only guy with a hop in his step from the opening tip. Jones scored nine points in a row to pull WVU out of its funk and on to victory.

“We didn’t want to have a bad start like we did last year,’’ said Jones about the Mountaineers’ opening-round loss to Dayton a year ago. “I’m just glad we were able to overcome it.’’