That’s been the story of the West Virginia University basketball season, and Saturday afternoon was no different.
Down a single point with 11.6 seconds to play, junior point guard Juwan Staten — the Mountaineers’ top offensive threat — couldn’t get the roll on his drive to the rim, and No. 11 Oklahoma State escaped the WVU Coliseum with a 73-72 win.
“They were locked in and knew exactly what was getting ready to happen,” said OSU head coach Travis Ford of his defense on the final possession. “But it’s not easy to stop Staten one-on-one. We did a good job of playing defense with our feet and making him try to go over us.”
It was the third time this season the Mountaineers (10-6, 2-1 Big 12) came up short in their bid to knock off a nationally-ranked foe. WVU was within six points of No. 10 Wisconsin late in the game at the Cancun Challenge in November, before losing 70-63. The Mountaineers held a 66-61 lead over No. 20 Gonzaga in Morgantown, but the Bulldogs went on a 13-2 run and won 80-76.
“I have the same assessment I had three weeks ago,” said a frustrated WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “We’re close. Our problem is that we have a whole bunch of freshmen who don’t understand that when you stop playing hard, people take advantage of you.
“I don’t know why the ball didn’t go in. I don’t know why we didn’t get the rebound. If it goes in, we’re sitting here talking about how far we’ve come (after a 13-19 finish last season). We got it at the rim with the guy that’s finished more goals at the rim than the rest of our team put together. We got what we wanted.”
The Cowboys (14-2, 2-1) deserved plenty of credit as well. Down 72-70 with a gold-and-blue-striped Coliseum crowd of 12,078 going wild, Markel Brown stepped into a 3-pointer for his 12th point of the game to put the visitors ahead with 15 ticks remaining. He was 0-for-4 from long range prior to that shot.
“It was just a big-time shot,” said Staten. “He hadn’t been shooting it well, and he shot it with a hand in his face. It was just a good shot.”
The story of the game for OSU, though, was the play of player of the year candidate Marcus Smart. The sophomore finished with a game-best 22 points to go along with 13 rebounds and five assists. He blocked a shot and recorded a steal.
“He’s the best player in America,” said Ford. “He played four different positions, and he knows every play from every position. He’s always very positive, and he’s put together back-to-back high-level games (after scoring 24 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in a win over Texas last Wednesday).”
On the other end, the Mountaineers — who led by as many as eight in the opening half and didn’t trail until Phil Forte’s 3-pointer with 11:28 left to play gave the Cowboys a 54-52 advantage — were led by a season-best 21 points from sophomore guard Terry Henderson, who knocked down 5 of 7 3-point tries. Henderson also grabbed six rebounds, dished out four assists and blocked three shots.
“I’m doing my best to help this team win,” he said. “But a loss is a loss. We had some mental mistakes at the end of the game, and we’ve got to fix that.
“I just really wanted to win. I wanted this one bad.”
Staten finished with 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds, and Williams had the fifth double-double of his freshman season with 12 points and 13 boards.
“He’s second or third in the league in double-doubles,” said Huggins. “We’ve just got to get him to be more consistent.”
WVU was outscored 26-14 in the paint, thanks largely to the play of OSU forward Le’Bryan Nash, who ended the game with 18 points and six rebounds.
The Cowboys, who have now won back-to-back games since a surprising conference loss at Kansas State last weekend, will be in action again Wednesday at home against TCU.
WVU won’t have much time to sulk with a matchup at home against Texas on the schedule at 7 p.m. Monday.
“They’re turning around quick like we are,” said Huggins of Texas, which hosted Texas Tech late Saturday night. “Of course it’s challenging. Everyone complains about quick turnarounds, but it is what it is. I’m more worried about Texas than when we play.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH
OKLAHOMA ST. (14-2)
Nash 7-13 4-6 18, Williams 1-4 0-0 2, Murphy 2-4 3-4 7, Brown 5-12 1-2 12, Smart 8-15 3-4 22, Clark 1-2 0-0 3, Forte, III 3-9 0-0 9, Soucek 0-0 0-0 0, Hammonds 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 27-60 11-16 73.
WEST VIRGINIA (10-6)
Williams 4-8 4-6 12, Noreen 0-0 0-0 0, Staten 7-12 6-7 20, Harris 3-11 4-4 11, Henderson 7-13 2-2 21, Dibo 2-5 0-0 6, Adrian 0-3 0-0 0, Browne 1-3 0-0 2, Watkins 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 24-58 16-19 72.
Halftime—West Virginia 41-39. 3-Point Goals—Oklahoma St. 8-20 (Smart 3-5, Forte, III 3-8, Clark 1-2, Brown 1-4, Hammonds 0-1), West Virginia 8-21 (Henderson 5-7, Dibo 2-4, Harris 1-6, Staten 0-1, Browne 0-1, Adrian 0-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Oklahoma St. 35 (Smart 13), West Virginia 38 (Williams 13). Assists—Oklahoma St. 10 (Smart 5), West Virginia 13 (Staten 8). Total Fouls—Oklahoma St. 15, West Virginia 16. A—12,078.