WASHINGTON — Back at his alma mater, back in the NCAAs, Bob Huggins looked and sounded just like the Bob Huggins everyone remembers.
He yelled. He groused. He drew an early technical foul. And he willed his No. 7-seeded West Virginia past second-seeded Duke.
Playing tough man-to-man defense, grabbing what seemed like every loose ball, West Virginia used Joe Alexander’s 22 points and 11 rebounds and all sorts of contributions from unlikely sources for a 73-67 victory over Duke on Saturday, getting to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 in Huggins’ first season.
“His passion, his lack of fear, is something we try to put out on the court,” said Alex Ruoff, whose 17 points included a 3 at the shot-clock buzzer that tied the score at 37 in the second half. “When you see that passion on the sideline, the last thing you want to do is let that man down.”
While the Mountaineers (26-10) face No. 3 Xavier in Phoenix on Thursday, the Blue Devils (28-6) must deal with a second consecutive early exit.
Every year from 1997 through 2006, Duke was a participant in the round of 16. Every single year. It’s a stretch that featured three trips to the Final Four and the 2001 national championship. But now Krzyzewski’s team is on a two-year drought, having bowed out in the first round in 2007.
“No matter how well or how hard you’re playing, you’ve got to put the ball in the basket,” said Krzyzewski, whose team was held to 38 percent shooting and missed 15 consecutive 3-pointers in one stretch. “We didn’t do that today.”
Gerald Henderson scored 18 points for Duke. But DeMarcus Nelson had only six points and was just 2-for-11 from the field, a game after scoring two when the Blue Devils eked out a one-point victory over No. 15-seed Belmont in the first round.
This time, there was no escaping. Instead, Huggins could appreciate a quick personal comeback. This is, after all, a guy who was out of work two years ago.
He got fired at Cincinnati — a school he led to the 1992 Final Four — after a drunken driving arrest, then sat out a season before surfacing at Kansas State in 2007. He took that team to the NIT, losing in the second round.
Now he’s back home in West Virginia, at the school he played for, and back among basketball’s elite.