By Cam Huffman
West Virginia fans found exactly what they were looking for Saturday as Bob Huggins’ Mountaineer basketball team played its first-ever Big 12 game against Oklahoma in the WVU Coliseum.
At least for the first 25 minutes.
WVU (7-6, 0-1 Big 12) played some of its best basketball of the 2012-13 season to build up a 12-point second-half lead, 43-31, with a few ticks fewer than 18 minutes to play.
But then the problems that plagued the team in early losses to Duquesne, Davidson and others returned as the WVU faithful watched the Sooners (10-3, 1-0 Big 12) score 36 of the game’s final 50 points to win 67-57 and start the new era of Mountaineer hoops in not-so-impressive fashion.
Already in grave danger of missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time in Huggins’ six seasons in Morgantown, WVU fell short in what had to be considered a must-win when it comes to tournament time — at home against an OU squad picked to finish in the middle of the conference pack, at best.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” said WVU freshman guard Terry Henderson, who led WVU with a career-high 21 points. “We’re not really a good second-half team, and Huggs told us in the locker room that we had to come out the second half and play harder than we did for the first half. We did for the first couple of minutes and then collapsed.”
Henderson’s efforts were a big reason why the Mountaineers were able to put on a show for the near-capacity crowd in the early going. The freshman, who came into the game averaging fewer than eight points per contest, had 18 in the first half Saturday, knocking down 5 of 7 3-point attempts in the first 20 minutes.
His scoring, along with a 21-17 Mountaineer advantage on the boards, allowed WVU to erase an early OU lead and take a 35-29 advantage into the halftime break.
But after hitting another 3-pointer two minutes into the second half, Henderson’s scoring disappeared, and so did the Mountaineer offense, which struggled to find another source for points.
The 12-point WVU advantage was quickly cut to four points, as OU forward Romero Osby continued to find second chances as a result of his rebounding work, drawing contact and getting to the foul line when he couldn’t finish the play at the rim.
Osby finished with 21 points and nine rebounds, and the Sooners scored 15 second-chance points on 17 offensive rebounds.
“We’ve had other teams that haven’t made shots,” said an obviously frustrated Huggins. “But they rebounded it well and guarded pretty well at the other end. We kept balls alive and did the little things.
“It’s frustrating. My teams have never been out-toughed. But (Oklahoma) out-toughed us.”
The biggest problem for WVU, though, was not the points OU was putting up, but the scores the Mountaineers failed to find on the offensive end. Huggins’ club shot just 24.1 percent from the field in the second half, scoring just five 2-point field goals, while going 2-for-11 from behind the 3-point arc.
Still ahead 55-51 with 5:44 left to close out a win in the league-opener, WVU scored just two points the rest of the way.
OU made shots, forced turnovers and dominated the final five minutes, sending the home fans up the aisles and to their cars before before the final buzzer ever rang throughout the Coliseum, drenched in gold for a Mountaineer Gold Rush.
“I hate it, because I know what it means,” said Huggins. “I understand how much this team means to the state of West Virginia.
“It’s my fault. I take full responsibility.”
The Sooners made their living in the paint, where WVU scored just 10 points with Deniz Kilicli, Aaric Murray and Dominique Rutledge struggling to find any offensive rhythm.
While the Mountaineer bigs were trying just to get the ball on the rim, Amath M’Baye and Osby asserted their dominance, scoring 30 points in the paint to help counteract WVU’s 11 3-pointers.
“They just wanted it more,” said Huggins. “We could go smaller and try to spread things out, but that makes it tough against the teams in this league with good bigs.”
Just six players for WVU put points in the scorebook. Jabarie Hinds had 11 and Juwan Staten 10 to go along with Henderson’s big night, but Murray’s eight were the next biggest number, with nobody else scoring more than four.
“We just have a concentration problem, and we don’t play for 40 minutes,” said Staten. “We play in spurts. Once our offense gets stagnant, we get stagnant on the defensive end, too.”
Up next for WVU is a trip to Texas for a game Wednesday at 9 p.m., the Mountaineers’ first Big 12 road test.
Oklahoma will host state rival No. 22 Oklahoma State next Saturday.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.
M’Baye 3-8 1-2 7, Osby 7-11 6-6 21, Pledger 5-12 0-0 12, Hield 4-12 0-0 8, Hornbeak 1-2 1-2 4, Grooms 1-2 0-0 2, Fitzgerald 0-0 0-0 0, Cousins 3-5 0-0 6, Neal 0-2 0-0 0, Clark 3-7 1-1 7. Totals 27-61 9-11 67.
WEST VIRGINIA (7-6)
Kilicli 1-4 1-2 3, Murray 2-7 2-2 8, Staten 4-9 2-2 10, Hinds 3-7 3-3 11, Henderson 7-14 1-2 21, Rutledge 0-2 0-0 0, Harris 1-8 1-2 4, Browne 0-8 0-0 0, Noreen 0-0 0-0 0, Miles 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 18-60 10-13 57.
Halftime—West Virginia 35-29. 3-Point Goals—Oklahoma 4-15 (Pledger 2-8, Osby 1-1, Hornbeak 1-1, Grooms 0-1, Cousins 0-1, Hield 0-1, Neal 0-2), West Virginia 11-30 (Henderson 6-11, Murray 2-4, Hinds 2-4, Harris 1-6, Miles 0-1, Browne 0-4). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Oklahoma 40 (Osby 9), West Virginia 39 (Kilicli 6). Assists—Oklahoma 12 (Hield 5), West Virginia 12 (Staten 7). Total Fouls—Oklahoma 14, West Virginia 10. A—12,112.