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WVU basketball: Cowboys get Smart, top WVU

MORGANTOWN -- Near the end of a season where so many things have gone wrong, West Virginia managed to do something right in the middle of Saturday's second half.

Cut up by Oklahoma State's offense and done in by their own turnovers after halftime, the Mountaineers did just about everything right to keep the Cowboys from adding to a 13-point lead. The ball was forced to the right side and Le'Bryan Nash was about to lose it out of bounds as the shot clock ticked toward zero.

He fired up a hopeless 25-footer off of one foot that missed everything as the Coliseum crowd of 10,038 exhaled. Yet teammate Brian Williams, who helped rescue OSU in a first half played almost entirely without arguably the Big 12's best player, saved the Cowboys again.

Williams stood alone in the paint, jumped without a challenge and flicked Nash's miss into the basket for a 60-45 lead on the way to a 73-57 win for the 14th-ranked Cowboys.

"There's got to come a point in time where you've got to figure out this isn't the right way to do things," Coach Bob Huggins said. "The shot clock's running down. He's falling out of bounds and heaves one up -you think we'd block out. Wouldn't you think so? Instead they catch it and lay it in because we're standing there watching it. That's not playing."

WVU has now lost consecutive games five times this season. It happened 11 times total in Huggins' first five seasons at WVU and never more than three times in one season. The Mountaineers lost their 11th straight game to a ranked team and fell to 1-12 against a team in the RPI's top 100. WVU (13-14, 6-8 Big 12) plays the final four games of the regular season against top-100 teams, beginning with Wednesday's 8 p.m. home game against Baylor. The Bears beat WVU by 20 points in Waco, Texas, Feb. 13.

More pressing for WVU is finding a way to finish above .500 to gain entry to the NIT and play in the postseason for a 10th straight season. Since the NCAA bought the NIT in the summer of 2005, all of the 224 selections have been above .500 and all but two have been at least two games above .500. The Mountaineers are 0-5 against the four remaining regular-season opponents (0-2 against Oklahoma)

"We're a lot better than what we were, but I'm not going to lie to you: I never saw it coming. I never saw it coming," Huggins said. "I've always kind of taken a lot of pride in the fact I could get guys to play hard. I could get guys to compete. People didn't like playing against us because we played so hard and we competed so hard. We tried to rebound the ball. We just did the right things.

"For some reason, I haven't been able to reach these guys, which is my fault. I should have been able to find a way to reach them."

Nash and Markell Brown had 16 points for the Cowboys (20-6, 10-4). Freshman point guard Marcus Smart, likely the Big 12's rookie of the year and possibly the player of the year, had 14 points, four assists and three steals all in the second half. He played only three minutes in the first half after getting three fouls in the first 2:34.

All three fouls came in 52 seconds and he couldn't get out of the game between the second and third, despite an apparent attempt to do so.

"We had a guy at the scorer's table ready to go check in," Coach Travis Ford said. "For some reason, he didn't get in the game, and that upset me, to say the least."

Williams, who was averaging 2.5 points after returning from a season-long injury eight games ago, had a season-high 13 points. He hadn't scored more than six points this season. Michael Cobbins added 10 points and nine rebounds. WVU held Phil Forte to four points and no baskets after Forte had 26 points and six 3-pointers in the home win last month.

"Nash is a McDonald's All-American, Brown's the leading scorer in our league, Smart is a McDonald's All-American," Huggins said, speaking of the opponent, but likely his team as well. "They've got good players. They play very well together. They seem to like each other.

"They've got a point guard who, when you're open, gets you the ball, which has a tendency, I think, to make guys play harder and work to get open harder. They're really good in transition and when you're open he throws you the ball. They share the ball."

Aaric Murray led the Mountaineers with 11 points. Kevin Noreen added nine points and seven rebounds. Matt Humphrey had 10 points and a pair of 3s off the bench. The Mountaineers had 17 turnovers and shot just 30 percent from the floor and the team's best two scorers the last six weeks, Deniz Kilicli and Eron Harris, combined for 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting.

Down just two at halftime, the Mountaineers helped OSU take over the game. The Cowboys started the made 8 of 11 shots to start the second half and finally got some help from Smart. He made his first basket at the 16:00 mark and then assisted for the first time a moment later for a 45-36 lead.

A 3 from Humphrey made it 45-41, but an offensive rebound rolled to Smart's feet in the paint and he managed to bounce his shot in off the glass while being fouled and then completed the three-point play. WVU turned the ball over on the next three possessions and OSU scored on the last two, the first an end-to-end layup by Smart before a dunk by Brown after WVU lost the ball against the pressure defense.

Down 52-41, the Mountaineers got within 10 points once, but Brown made a free throw and then Smart turned a WVU turnover into a layup to go ahead 12 points. Williams made a 3 for a 58-43 lead with 9:10 to go, not long before his tip-in.

"What's the difference between the first half and the second half most of this season?" Huggins said. "We don't compete as hard. What makes this a hard game is you've got to do the right thing all the time."

Everything was going right early and WVU's lead was 12-5 after Jabarie Hinds hit a floater on the baseline. That was his second basket of the first five minutes - or as many baskets as he had the first time the two teams met, though he wouldn't score again Saturday. Seconds into game, he simply stole the ball mid-dribble from Brown and dunked alone on the other end.

The Mountaineers started 5-for-8 from the floor and Kilicli, Hinds and Noreen all had a pair of scores, with Noreen making a 3-pointer and later a free throw when Ford was hit with a technical after Smart couldn't get out of the game before his third foul. The Cowboys started 2-for-2 from the floor, but had six turnovers.

"I was trying to pump up our team and I was trying to light a fire under them," Ford said. "I was over there acting like a fool. I was trying to do those things on purpose."

Once Ford lost control, so, too, did the Mountaineers. After starting 4-for-7, they missed 15 of 17 shots and went 8:05 between baskets. The Cowboys would outscore WVU 9-3 between its baskets and then go up 27-19 on a 3 from Williams to complete a 22-7 run.

"It wasn't the start we were looking for, but it might have been what we needed," said Ford, whose team played an overtime game last Saturday and a double-overtime game Wednesday. "In the locker room prior to the game, I didn't think we had the energy level we needed. We were trying to energize our guys and pump them up, but we came out a little soft, a little hesitant."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com">mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.

 


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