NEW YORK - Bob Huggins was calling timeouts early and making substitutions from deep on his bench and nothing was working for West Virginia's coach.
St. John's was driving and scoring and rebounding at will and Huggins rolled up his sleeves in a huddle and pulled out one last trick.
He'd abandon man-to-man defense and opt for the 1-3-1 zone.
"Nothing else seemed to work," he said Wednesday night. "But when you spend the whole timeout going over where everyone is supposed to be and then three guys are in the 1-3-1 and two of them aren't, they're not really into what you're doing. Know what I mean?"
That explanation was perhaps the easiest thing to understand after WVU's 78-62 loss to the Red Storm at Madison Square Garden.
Gone is the three-game winning streak and whatever momentum the Mountaineers (15-6, 5-3 Big East) had built and hoped to take into the Carrier Dome for Saturday's 1 p.m. (ESPNU telecast) game against No. 3 Syracuse (21-1, 8-1).
"You want to get as far away from this as possible," said WVU forward Kevin Jones, who had his 14th double-double with 26 points and 14 rebounds. "We know we're a better team this and it's hard with a lot of young guys.
"They have a tendency to get real down on themselves, especially when Coach says certain things. That's the way Coach is. As they get older, they'll figure out the meaning of what he says."
Wednesday's game was the first of five remaining games for the Mountaineers against teams in the bottom four in the league standings.
They missed a chance to move into a tie for second place in the race for one of the four two-round byes in the Big East Tournament. A loss Saturday could drop them to a tie for seventh in the standings and battling for just a one-round bye.
"You know what I've learned from over 30 years of this? You've got to want to listen," Huggins said. "I think kids today have such a - how do I put this the right way? - they put a lot more value in their ability than what their ability really deserves."
Huggins said WVU had bad practices Monday and Tuesday and he recalled one stretch where his team made one shot in 10 minutes. It wasn't much different in the game. The Mountaineers started 3-for-15 and went into halftime 7-for-25.
St. John's played zone defense throughout the game and mixed a 1-2-2, 2-3 and 1-3-1 with good success. WVU held the ball a lot, couldn't score on drives, settled for jump shots and had very little success running plays to get good shots against the zone.
"You've got to get the ball in the middle and you've got to get anybody who can make a play or pass the ball," senior guard Truck Bryant said. "You've got to get the ball in the middle at all times because the wings are extended very high."
The Mountaineers hadn't seen a team play a zone as continuously since they lost at Seton Hall on Dec. 28.They'll see nothing but a 2-3 from Syracuse. The Orange - No. 1 in the RPI - lead the league in blocked shots and cause constant consternation with their trademark defense.