Bridges, Osabuohien Lasso Pokes

West Virginia forward Jalen Bridges catches his breath in the late going

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.  — For the first time this year, West Virginia put it all together for a full game, and with Gabe Osabuohien and Jalen Bridges leading the way, the Mountaineers beat Oklahoma State, 70-60, in a game that was not nearly that close before 10,352 insomniacs at the Coliseum. The game, starting at 9 p.m. partly due to the NFL playoffs, sent the crowd home late, but happy.

Bridges matched his career high with 22 points, going 10 for 10 from the free throw line on a night when the Mountaineers hit 21 of 22 from the line. He tossed in five rebounds and three blocked shots for good measure.

And Osabuohien showed off heretofore unseen offensive skills to go with his smothering defensive play, scoring 12 points and making all four of his free throws while grabbing eight rebounds.

WVU ran its record to 13-2 and 2-1 in the Big 12 on a night when the league leader and the nation’s No. 1 team, Baylor, was upset by Texas Tech.

It was a late-arriving crowd, even the early arrivals coming late. Couldn’t help it with that 9 p.m. starting time.

That, of course, gave the crowd a chance to get some alcoholic encouragement for the evening. There had to be some imbibing, especially for the fan who arrived wearing a team jersey, which would have been all right had it not been No. 34 with the name Tshiebwe on the back.

Not that anyone noticed. The crowd was caught up in the best first half WVU had put together all year, led as it often is by the manical play of Osabuohien.

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The do-everything forward was his usual force on defense, his hand seemingly on the ball no matter who had it or where. He was credited with only one steal and one block in the half, but it seemed like he had close to a dozen deflections.

But his real dominance came on the offensive end as he scored nine points, one short of Bridges’ 10 and one more than Taz Sherman’s eight as the Mountaineers built a 34-23 advantage.

Osabuohien went 3 for 5 from the floor and somehow made all three of his free throws. His season free throw percentage coming into the game was 26.7.

At one point he made nine consecutive points to stretch the WVU lead from 18-12 to 27-12. This included his play of the year, a drive toward the basket at full speed where he faked right, spun to his left 360 degrees, then threw in a tough layup while being fouled.

“I was in transition and I had a smaller man on me and felt I could get to the rim,” Osabuohien said of the play.

Not seeing the foul, Huggins took him out of the game to a standing ovation, only to have the officials call him back to shoot the free throw, which he made.

He exited again, this time to a louder, longer ovation.

“The offense he gives us is just an added bonus with all the other great things he does,” Bridges said of Osabuohien.

West Virginia forward Gabe Osabuohien (3) steps in for a steal

The second half started off with McNeil making sure that Oklahoma State couldn’t draw any closer as he scored the Mountaineers’ first seven points on a couple of baskets, followed by a 3-pointer from the left corner off a smooth pass from Sherman.

OSU’s Kaylen Boone answered that with a three of his won and the lead was nine, so it was time for Osabuohien to again ignite the crowd, this time with a difficult shot off a drive, then a swish of his fourth consecutive free throw to give him 12 points.

Even with all that solid play, WVU had nothing put away, even as the lead grew to 16. You just knew that Oklahoma State had a run left, especially as they began picking up defensively all over the floor. Sure enough they put nine straight points on the board, six of them from Issac Likekele, and all of a sudden it was a 53-46 game with still 7:37 to play.

It was Bridges’ turn to take over,  as he scored eight straight points, four on free throws cpaping a night on which he scored a team-high 22.

Two more of them came with Osabuohien’s finger print all over them, Gabe wrestling the ball away from Bryce Williams and getting it to Bridges for a dunk.

By the time this run was over, WVU’s lead was up to 64-49 … and Bridges wasn’t done. Already possessing 20 points, he sank two more free throws, and from there it was a matter of simply keeping Oklahoma State from making a late run. While WVU didn’t, as huggins noted, do well in closing out the game down the stretch, it also didn’t let the Cowboys back in it, and wound up securing an important league win that could prove to be a crucial one whe NCAA resumes are evaluated at the end of the regular season.

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