WVU basketball: OSU pokes Mountaineers, 80-66
STILLWATER, Okla. -- The good news for West Virginia Saturday was that there wouldn't be much time spent lamenting the latest collapse and trying to figure out how a 13-point lead in the first half turned into an 80-66 loss to Oklahoma State at Iba-Gallagher Arena.
The bad news is the mourning could only be brief because Kansas, the eight-time defending conference champion, comes to the Coliseum Monday night. The Jayhawks will probably be No. 2 in the polls and the RPI for the 9 p.m. tip-off on ESPN.
"I feel like going home, going to bed and pulling the covers over my head," Coach Bob Huggins said.
The Mountaineers followed some of their best play in quite some time with the same sort of struggle that's become all too familiar this season. Once up a baker's dozen, they lost for the fifth time by double figures and the fifth time in seven games.
It was also the second time in conference play WVU (9-10, 2-4 Big 12) has lost by double figures after leading by at least 12 points. The Mountaineers led Oklahoma 43-31 in the second half of a 67-57 loss Jan. 5.
"Collectively as a team, we've got to get on the same page," freshman Eron Harris said. "We're not all on the same page all the time and for some reason we're still working on it."
The Cowboys (13-5, 3-4), who also entered the game having lost four of six games, outscored WVU by 11 points in the second half and by 24 in the final 25:32 before a crowd of 7,512.
OSU shot 50 percent in the second half (15-for-30) and made 10 of 19 3-pointers and 20 of 25 free throws in the game to improve to 10-1 at home this season and 3-0 in conference games.
Markel Brown led all scorers with a season-high 24 points and made 4 of 6 3-point shots. Freshman Phil Forte made six 3s off the bench and added a career-high 26 points. Freshman Marcus Smart finished with 13 points and Philip Jurick had eight points and 12 rebounds. It was all enough to overcome a day in which the second-leading scorer, Le'Bryan Nash, had two fouls and three points in 25 minutes.
Harris led WVU with 17 points and five 3s. It was his fourth straight game in double figures after having just four in the first 15 games. Aaric Murray had 11 points and 10 rebounds off the bench. Deniz Kilicli added 12 points, but fouled out in 28 minutes.
WVU played without guard Matt Humphrey, who'd helped WVU shooting the ball the past three games. He aggravated a left shoulder injury that required surgery in August and stayed home. It's the third time WVU has played on the road without a regular.
The Mountaineers shot above their averages at 42.9 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from 3-point range, even with Jabarie Hinds and Terry Henderson combining to shoot 4-for-16 from the floor and 2-for-9 from 3-point range.
"We had shots," Huggins said.
A 3 by Harris and then a second-chance basket by Murray cut the OSU lead that had been as large as 19 points to 70-59 with 3:31 to go. Jurick dunked and then blocked WVU's Keaton Miles at the rim before Forte made two free throws and then his final 3 to restore order.
It was much different earlier in the game, though. WVU played some of its best all-round basketball in conference play for much of the first half, scoring on offense, guarding on defense and doing enough rebounding to build and extend a lead. OSU dunked and had a layup on its first two possessions and would lead 7-4 before the Mountaineers quickly pulled themselves together.
A 3 from Harris gave WVU a lead it would hold for the next 14 minutes. The Cowboys scored just twice in a stretch of 16 possessions and mixed in turnovers with missed dunks and free throws as WVU constructed a big lead.
Six players scored in a 20-4 run for the Mountaineers and they were shooting 11-for-19 from the floor when Kilicli pump-faked Jurick at the free-throw line and then drove hard for a layup and a 24-11 lead with 5:32 left in the half. WVU had 14 points in the paint and 10 points off OSU turnovers and had allowed the Cowboys no second-chance points and no points off turnovers.
The Mountaineers couldn't keep it going, though.
"I don't know why we wouldn't," Huggins said. "I don't think it's physical. I think it's mental."
OSU switched to a zone that slowed the Mountaineers down and Forte ignited a rally with a 3 from an open spot in the right corner. That not only started a trend of open shots when his defender would leave to go help a teammate, but also a run of scores on four straight possessions and nine unanswered points. Kilcili stopped it briefly when he blocked a layup at the rim and Harris made a 3 in transition.
OSU made two free throws and the Cowboys jumped into a press that forced a turnover and led to a Smart layup to make it 27-24. After Hinds missed a 3, OSU missed a jumper in transition, but Jurick grabbed his team's first live ball offensive rebound of the first half and flicked it back to Forte for another open 3 to tie the score.
"It's all about getting momentum," Kilicli said. "Whatever we had going in the first 15 minutes -- they were making shots, we were answering it making shots and stopping them -- they turned to a zone and all our movement stopped. I don't know why because normally we're better, we score better, against a zone. I don't know. It is really hard to put my finger on what's going on."
Forte followed with his third uncontested 3 of the half to give OSU a 30-27 lead and conclude a 19-6 run to end the half. Seven points came off turnovers or offensive rebounds. WVU missed 6 of 7 shots and turned the ball over five times in the final 5:32.
"They made shots and we didn't," Huggins said. "We kind of helped them by leaving them open and getting them started. It's a lot to make one after you've made a couple. We helped off the wrong people at the wrong time."