Justin Jackson: Up-and-down 1st game follows offseason trend for Eilert and WVU

Nov. 7—The festivities actually began Sunday night for Josh Eilert and his family.

"We had a table for 20 at Oliverio's and every single one of them was an Eilert, " the first-year WVU men's basketball coach said.

You know what they say, big table equals one big bill.

"Yeah, it was a big bill, " Eilert said, before confirming he picked it up for everyone.

Just minutes prior to what was Eilert's first career victory—a 67-59 win over Missouri State inside the Coliseum on Monday—he took a moment to go behind the Mountaineers' bench and hug his family and support group.

"They say bad things happen in threes, " Eilert said after the game. "For me, it feels more like a dozen."

This offseason has been anything but easy. WVU's starting point guard Kerr Kriisa was suspended for nine games after accepting improper benefits while he was still enrolled at Arizona.

The starting power forward, Akok Akok, is out with a medical issue. Eilert said there was nothing new he was willing to report on Akok, but it doesn't sound like he'll be back in the lineup anytime soon.

The school is also still dealing with the NCAA over an eligibility waiver for guard RaeQuan Battle, who can likely add a different gear for this WVU offense.

All of this while Eilert knows he is just the interim coach, given a one-season tryout in what otherwise could be an uncertain future.

And so, you know there was some extra love given in those pregame hugs.

"Two of my cousins and their families and one of my brothers came up and made a weekend of it to support me, " Eilert said. "That means so much to me they made that effort."

And then there was the game itself, which didn't go exactly how Eilert had planned.

It certainly wasn't pretty, either, as the Mountaineers finished the first half missing their final 21 shots.

"I wasn't flying high in the first half by any means, " Eilert said. "I was sitting there looking up at the ceiling a couple of times wondering what I got myself into."

Like any good Hollywood story, though, things got turned around in the second half.

Suddenly the Mountaineers couldn't miss. Eilert's new offensive approach—what he has referred to as a complete overhaul from what his Hall-of-Fame predecessor Bob Huggins did at WVU—began to take shape.

WVU started getting rebounds and didn't get in any foul trouble along the way.

Kobe Johnson started to look pretty good—eight points, four assists, no turnovers—as the fill-in point guard and Seth Wilson went through a seven-minute stretch as the hottest shooter in the country.

Jesse Edwards needed only seven shots to put together a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds and Quinn Slazinski had 10 of his 18 points in the second half.

And Eilert became the winningest college basketball coach in the country, a perfect 1.000 winning percentage now under his belt.

For everything he went through this offseason, it was those private moments in the locker room after his first game that just may have made it all worth it.

It was in that locker room where the WVU players congratulated Eilert with a Gatorade shower.

"I had to change my shirt. It was more than just Gatorade, " Eilert said. "I couldn't see there for a couple of minutes, it was special. I love each and every one of these guys and there is a reason why they are part of this program.

"I have an immense amount of trust in them. I hope it goes both ways and I think it does. We keep building that chemistry and keep moving forward."