Sooner Sweep For WVU
West Virginia’s trip to Norman, Oklahoma, for Big Monday turned into an episode of the reality show “Survivor” as the Mountaineers scrapped and fought to avoid another second-half collapse and win a key Big 12 game, 75-73.
The victory gave Bob Huggins’ team a sweep of the season series against the Sooners, which gives them the tie-breaker with them when it comes to Big 12 Tournament seeding, but more important, it broke a tie in the standings with the Sooners, leaving them a game behind Kansas and Texas Tech with games still pending with each.
After a strong first half that was led by Lamont West, who hit five straight 3s in less than a 3-minute span, WVU went stone cold in the second half, shooting just 26.5 percent.
“We couldn’t make anything in the second half, but we had to grind it out and, boy, we grinded it out. That’s what people expect of us,” Huggins said. “I think we’re back. I think we’re back to being the competitive, refuse-to-lose team we were.”
In the end it was the defense that made the difference as WVU held Oklahoma to 25 points below their home average of 98 points a game and 16 below their national leading scoring average of 89.
Oklahoma’s freshman sensation Trae Young got his 32 points but Jevon Carter’s defense was such that he didn’t get his first and only assist — and he leads the nation in that department, too — until the closing seconds.
His previous low in assists was five in the loss at WVU.
Carter finished with 10 points, eight assists and six steals. West led in scoring with 17 while Sagaba Konate and Esa Ahmad, who closed strong when it counted, each had 14 points. Konate also had 11 rebounds.
The day started with Carter being named one of 10 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award, given annually to the nation’s top point guard.
That set up the season’s second showdown between two of the top finalists, Carter, a senior, and Young.
Carter brought some pretty impressive statistics with him, being the only player in the country averaging more than 16 points, six assists and three steals a game. He also stood second in the NCAA in steals.
Carter also had one other advantage over Young, a victory in Morgantown in the first meeting between these two teams. Using his clamp-down defense when facing Young helped keep the Sooners to just 76 points, 13 beneath their NCAA-leading average of 89 a game.
In that home win, Carter did a solid job on Young but also got himself into foul trouble.
“I hope we keep him on the floor longer than last game,” coach Bob Huggins said. “He had four fouls and we had to play 10 minutes without him.” We have to rest him intelligently. We need Jevon on the floor.”
As the game started Daxter Miles Jr. was again on the bench as he regains his strength from battling the flu, as was Lamont West, with James “Beetle” Bolden filling in at guard for Miles and Esa Ahmad starting after a solid game against Kansas State.
All Huggins wanted was high energy from his team and he got it in a first half that saw them rush to a 50-40 lead with contributions coming from everywhere, but nowhere more than Lamont West.
“We have to play with energy and run the offense like we did against Kansas State,” Huggins said prior to the tipoff.
West had struggled for a long time, hitting only 16 of his last 51 3s, which put him on the bench, but he came on shooting like you expected Young to do. In a span of less than three minutes he changed the tone of the game, hitting five consecutive 3s.
That led WVU to shooting 56.8 percent for the half, which was quite necessary as they did not attempt a free throw while the Sooners were enjoying the home cooking that gave them 12 free throws.
Young did his part with 4-of-5 from the line as he scored 17 points but even with that he wasn’t outdoing Carter, whose coast-to-coast rush just before the halftime buzzer for the score completed a run in which WVU hit its final eight shots.
Carter finished the half with only four points but with seven assists.
Sagaba Konate, who had the backboard shaking with a number of powerful dunks, made 5-of-6 shots to finish the half with 10 points.
As hot as the Mountaineers were in the first half is as cold as they were coming out of the locker room, missing their first six shots and fumbling away another fast break opportunity.
Fortunately, Oklahoma was no better, making one of its first 12 over that same span to cut the lead down to 50-42 at the first media timeout.
WVU finally got a field goal from Carter five minutes and 26 seconds into the second half and finally got to shoot some free throws for the first time 26 minutes and 19 seconds into the game, West hitting two of three. WVU had a 54-47 lead and, more important, more important, momentum.
Quickly they looked like a different group as Carter scored and Konate had his fourth dunk of the game and the lead had swelled to 11 and Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger called time out to look for answers.
He found some, too.
Young kept doing his thing and when Rashard Odomes scored on fast break with 24.3 seconds left, going down to the floor, the Mountaineers had a one-point lead to protect.
Oklahoma turned up the full-court pressure but couldn’t force a turnover, making them foul Ahmad with 13.1 seconds left.
Ahmad made 1-of-2 free throws, then WVU forced Young to give up the ball coming down the court and the Sooners couldn’t get a shot to go as the clock ran out.