Josh Eilert certainly could have scripted a better start.
West Virginia missed 21 straight field goals in the second half as part of a drought from the floor that stretched over the final 14:07. By halftime the Mountaineers only trailed 30-24 but shot 4-32 from the field and looked out of sorts for large stretches of time.
To put it simply nothing came easy for Eilert’s club in his first half atop the program.
“We had guys breaking out of our offense and I want to use selfish, but I don’t want to use selfish. I think they mean well but sometimes a little bit of frustration and ball pressure and they think they have to put their heads down and drive it when the reality is the pass is the best option,” Eilert said.
Fortunately for Eilert, the game of basketball has a second half and the message at the break was pretty straight forward. Yes, the Mountaineers struggled to open things but trust the process and themselves.
Confidence is a critical aspect in the sport and Eilert tried to focus his team on running offense and avoiding doing some of the things that forced them to struggle in the first frame.
His team understood the message and truthfully didn’t even need to hear it.
That’s because they were already well aware. There was confidence from the team across the board that while it had gone about as poor as possible, there were still a lot of time left to change things.
“Got in the locker room and everything was positive. We just tried to lift each other. From the first guy to the last guy, we just talked each other up it’s going to change and that was our mindset coming out. Shots didn’t fall in the first half but they’re going to fall especially if we play the right way and get the right looks,” guard Seth Wilson said.
It started with understanding what had gone wrong and then building a plan to stay within the offensive frame and trust one another from start to finish. That can be difficult in this current landscape with so many new faces meshing together given the transfer portal but is a necessity.
“It’s not going to happen in the second half. It’s law of percentages; we practice too hard we just need to play our game. We’ve been playing basketball for too long; we trust these guys. It’s almost funny, nothing is falling for us we can’t catch a break, but we get in halftime we’re going to flush it out and be ready to go,” forward Quinn Slazinski said.
That’s exactly what this team did. West Virginia hit their first six shots of the second half to take a lead that they would never relinquish against Missouri State. The Mountaineers made 18-31 from the field in that half and almost doubled their scoring with 43 points.
“I think the biggest difference was trust. In the first half, the first game I think we all didn’t really know what each other wanted to do and how to go about it. Second half, we started to trust each other and that was the difference,” Wilson said.
Much like the exhibition game, the Mountaineers overcame a difficult start by showing resolve and finding a way to win in the end. But this one counts in the record book for Eilert as his first as a coach.
And a valuable lesson moving forward on what was a night to remember for many reasons.
“I wasn’t flying high in the first half, I was sitting there looking up at the ceiling a few times wondering what did I get myself into,” Eilert joked.