It was all right there: the look of very real potential followed by a complete letdown, moments of accurate shooting followed an inability to solve zone defenses, stretches of effort and energy on defense immediately preceding an unending series of open shots for the Cowboys’ best shooter.
The result was another ugly loss, one that again put the Mountaineers below .500 overall and ended any notion that Wednesday’s win over TCU was going to serve as some sort of turning point for this team.
Indeed, WVU has now lost four of its last five games, as things appear to be getting worse in several key areas as the season progresses.
“I feel like going home, going to bed and pulling the covers over my head for a couple days,” coach Bob Huggins told the Mountaineer Sports Network.
West Virginia (9-10, 2-4 Big 12) completely fell apart in the final 25:30 of action. It allowed a staggering 69 points in that span of time alone, completely countering what had been a strong start defensively by leaving OSU’s best shooters open repeatedly.
They took advantage.
Player of the Game
Guard Phil Forte came off the bench to score a career-high 26 points, making six 3-pointers and rarely having to contend with a WVU defender in the process. Guard Markel Brown added 24 more, as the Cowboys overcame a slow start to shoot 48.1 percent from the field. They were never seriously tested in the second half.
“You could read any stat to me and it’s frustrating to me,” Huggins said. “We’ve never done it. Never. We’ve been one of the best in the country at guarding the 3-point line ... We’ve got a freshman, and as many times as you tell him, I guess until it happens enough, he leaves their best shooter to go help. He hits a 3. He leaves again, and he hits another 3. All of a sudden, they’re off to the races.”
It didn’t look like that would be the story in the early stages. Indeed, the Mountaineers badly outplayed Oklahoma State from the opening tip, jumping out to a 24-11 lead in the first 14:30 of the game.
It all was working early. Outside shots were falling, and Deniz Kilicli was finding a way to produce in the interior as well. The defense was stifling, as the Pokes struggled in one stretch to even get a decent shot attempt on some of their trips down the floor.
But OSU coach Travis Ford had his team begin playing a 2-3 zone defense, and WVU looked as though it had not made any progress in solving that particular tactic since several of the team’s opponents used it regularly in the earlier stages of the season.
The struggles on offense translated to the other end of the floor, and Oklahoma State closed out the half on a 19-3 run to take a 30-27 lead to the locker room.
“We can’t make shots. We can’t make shots. It has become painfully obvious,” Huggins said. “Terry Henderson didn’t make any shots today [2-of-7 from the field]. Eron Harris was really our only guy who made shots. he had wide open looks and didn’t make any ... if those two guys don’t make shots, we struggle.”
Harris did his part, scoring a team-high 17 points and canning five 3-pointers in the process. West Virginia’s struggling frontcourt put together a reasonably strong game as well, as Kilicli scored 12 points on an efficient 4-of-6 shooting performance from the field. Aaric Murray added 11 points, 10 rebounds and two assists off the bench.
“It wasn’t them. It wasn’t them today, anyway,” Huggins said.
Again, the head coach expressed particular disgust at the way his players continued to make mental mistakes: from not being in the correct place after plays were drawn up during timeouts, to leaving Forte open repeatedly, to a bench player failing to execute a simple tactic to neutralize one of Oklahoma State’s defensive looks.
“I have never had teams that after a timeout come out and don’t know what they’re doing after you show them what to do,” Huggins said. “It’s guys that have played now, what, 19 games this year and 30-some last year? Played 50 games. I don’t know. I don’t know. All I can say is what I told you guys before: I never saw this coming. I never saw it coming.”