For WVU, It Was Survive And Advance Against Oklahoma
Basketball is a game of inches and split seconds. West Virginia and Oklahoma keep reminding the Big 12 Tournament crowd of exactly that.
A few years ago OU’s Buddy Hield tossed in a halfcourt shot at the final buzzer that at first appeared to beat the Mountaineers in the Big 12 semifinals. Upon further review, though, it was ruled the ball was still on Hield’s fingertip when the horn sounded, and thus it was WVU’s turn to celebrate.
Wednesday night back at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, the Mountaineers and Sooners needed another review. And again the replay went West Virginia’s way, as the Mountaineers managed a 72-71 victory over OU.
It was a first round Big 12 tourney game this time, not a semifinal affair as it was in 2016. But there was still plenty on the line, especially for Oklahoma. The Sooners, who dropped to 19-13 with the loss, likely would have cemented a spot in next week’s NCAA Tournament with a win over WVU in K.C., but the upset at the hands of the Mountaineers, who have now beaten OU in two of three games this season, means the Sooners will be sweating on Selection Sunday.
Oklahoma’s NCAA hopes may have died by a fraction of an inch. West Virginia held a 72-69 lead with 8.1 seconds left when WVU junior guard Jermaine Haley stepped to the foul line for the first shot in a one-and-one situation. A make would have almost certainly sealed the Mountaineer victory, but he missed and the Sooners hustled down court looking for a potential game-tying three. The ball went to OU’s leading scorer, Christian James, on the right wing, and the senior guard took a jab step before rising up and draining a shot that went through the net just as the buzzer sounded. James was behind the three-point line when he started his sequence, but he slid his right foot forward just a bit as he tried to create room for his shot. As he rose up for the potential game-tying attempt, his toe was touching the three-point line. Though initially ruled a three-pointer, the officials went to the replay monitor immediately. It didn’t take them long to determine that James’ shot was a two-pointer, not a three. With 0:00 showing on the clock, the contest was over and WVU was left dancing at the Sooners’ expense again.
With the win over the tournament’s No. 7 seed, the No. 10 seeded Mountaineers (13-20) move on the quarterfinal round on Thursday where they will meet No. 2 seed Texas Tech (26-5). The Red Raiders swept WVU in their two games this past season, Tech slipped out of Morgantown with a hard-fought 62-59 win back on Jan. 2, though they had a much easier time in Lubbock on Feb. 4, blowing out West Virginia 81-50. WVU has been playing much better as of late, though, as Wednesday’s win was the Mountaineers’ third victory in their last five games.
West Virginia may have had to hold its breath at the end, but it earned the win over Oklahoma by controlling the tempo much of the way. WVU led most of the first half, by as many as eight a couple times, though a late three-pointer by OU’s Kristian Doolittle sent the Sooners to the halftime lockerroom with a 35-33 advantage.
Oklahoma remained in front for the first six minutes of the second half. After falling behind by as many as six, though, West Virginia came fighting back. A couple Jordan McCabe three-pointers were bracketed around an Emmitt Matthews drive, which pushed West Virginia back on top with 11:42 left. The Mountaineers would lead the rest of the way, though Oklahoma wasn’t going to go away quietly. The two clubs battled toe to toe down the stretch, before the decisive toe at the end.
WVU’s recent double-double machine Derek Culver was limited to just 14 minutes of action because of foul trouble. He was held to six points and seven rebounds Wednesday, but he had some important contributions in the late going.
Lamont West led West Virginia’s scoring effort, as he had 15 points. Haley had 14 points and a career-high 12 rebounds for the first double-double of his career. McCabe added 12 points. Logan Routt chipped in eight points, and Matthews finished with seven points and eight rebounds.
Brady Manek topped Oklahoma with 22 points, but the effort by his Sooners came up just a fraction short of at least extending the game into overtime.