MORGANTOWN,W.Va - The scenes following the last two West Virginia games could not have been more different. On Monday, the Mountaineers pummeled No. 11 Iowa State, beating a ranked team for the second time in as many home games and commemorating the occasion by storming the student section.
"We hadn't been able to do that in a long time," junior Kevin Noreen said. "It was a culmination of the hard work in practice that we've gone through. It was a good feeling to celebrate after a win like that."
Two days earlier, there would be no celebration and only contrition. WVU had lost on the road to No. 8 Kansas by 14 points and Terry Henderson had scored but two points and missed all three of the shots he attempted. In his head, he thought what others thought. What if he'd met his average and given his teammates 10 more points? Might that day have seen the culmination of the hard work in practice?
A win at Kansas? Everyone outside that locker room would have had to accept what all of those inside it had preached, which was that this WVU program is what it once was before falling off last season. Knowing the Mountaineers would have to wait a little longer to rest their case, Henderson went around the locker room from teammate to teammate, coach to coach.
"This one's on me," he said. "I didn't play well. I let you down."
And there was Henderson in the opening moments Monday, making the first three shots he took and scoring eight early points to ignite WVU's hellacious 52-point first half and 19-point halftime lead.
This may not be the best team in the Big 12. It might not be a NCAA Tournament team. But this is the team Bob Huggins wanted and this is the team WVU's fans needed to get over what had gone wrong and to get back to doing things right.
"This is what every school wants," guard Eron Harris said. "Every school wants a team that loves each other, a team that loves the school, a team that loves where we're at. So I feel like fans are in a great position right now to be at this school and supporting the basketball team."
Fans were stepping away after last season, something the players realized and understood earlier this season. The Coliseum would have some of the smallest crowds of the past decade and the Mountaineers shrugged their shoulders and admitted they couldn't blame people for keeping their distance.
"I would say it was hard to root for us last year," Noreen said.
They've been slow to come back, though. The Coliseum has yet to be at its capacity this season and has only really been close once in Big 12 play. The last two crowds (7,538 and 8,117) have been loud and given the opposition trouble, but put together they're just a little above a sellout.
"It's hard to figure out what people are thinking about us," point guard Juwan Staten said.
It's easy to say what they should be thinking about the Mountaineers, but that might as well be the 3-point line for Staten. He won't go there.