WVU basketball: Oakland takes Mountaineers to the wire
MORGANTOWN - For a good portion of the first half of Wednesday night's game against Oakland, it looked as if West Virginia was on its way to a third straight loss at its worst start since the 1977-78 season.
But a Gary Browne floater as the shot clock expired with 1:50 remaining lifted the Mountaineers (5-5) to a win over Oakland, 76-71, at the WVU Coliseum.
"I felt like we were moving forward after the Virginia Tech win, but then we came out against Duquesne and were flat. We've been up and down," sophomore point guard Juwan Staten said. "We've just got to find some consistency."
Much like in last Saturday's loss to No. 3 Michigan, things didn't start the way the Mountaineers wanted them to in the first half.
After making its first three shots of the game and jumping out to an 8-4 lead against the Golden Grizzlies (4-8), WVU went cold and didn't score for the next three minutes. From there Oakland took control, leading by as many as eight points late in the half.
A 6-0 run in the closing minutes of the first half allowed the Mountaineers to close the gap to two, heading into the locker room trailing 39-37.
"Everything is definitely there, we've just got to do it on a consistent basis," Staten said. "When we had to lock down and play great defense and make shots down the stretch tonight, we were able to do that.
"But throughout the game our focus faded a little bit. That leads to some of those drop-offs like we've had."
Oakland got a boost early from senior forward Drew Valentine and junior guard Travis Bader. The duo combined to shoot 9-for-13 in the first half for 26 points.
Bader entered the game as the Golden Grizzlies' leading scorer, averaging almost 20 points per game, and finished Wednesday's contest with 25 points.
In its last five games, the opposing team's leading scorer is averaging 20 points per game against WVU.
One big boost for the Mountaineers compared to the other games they have struggled in was the fact that they were hitting their shots, especially in the second half.
West Virginia made 53 percent of its shots from the field against the Golden Grizzlies, its highest field goal percentage since Jan. 4 against Rutgers.
"(Making shots down the stretch) is something that comes with growth," sophomore forward Keaton Miles said. "Being able to mature and buckle down and play defense and make shots like we did was just a good sign that we're starting to get better as a team."
The Mountaineers controlled the momentum for a large portion of the second half, but Bader tied the game back up at 71 for Oakland when he made his sixth shot of the contest from beyond the arc with 2:29 to play.
Browne's floater on the ensuing possession would go on to give the Mountaineers the lead for good, as junior center Aaric Murray made three of his four free throw attempts down the stretch to seal the game.
Murray, who didn't travel to WVU's game against Michigan, finished with his first double-double with the Mountaineers. The La Salle transfer scored 12 points, while grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking five shots.
Staten, Keaton Miles and freshman Terry Henderson also finished in double figures for West Virginia. Staten had 11 points to go with five assists and two turnovers, while Miles and Henderson finished with 10 points apiece.
The Mountaineers also got big contributions from their bench, including senior forward Dominique Rutledge who had a couple dunks and a rebound and a block in crunch time.
"We struggle with consistent effort," Coach Bob Huggins said. "We probably have too many guys that are all about the same, so the prudent thing to do is to play the ones who are playing the best that day.
"The battle is to have them keep playing."
Valentine finished with 15 points for Oakland, while center Corey Petros and guard Duke Mondy scored 14 and 10 points, respectively.