Any loss sounds dreadful, but plenty of positives can arise from a 70-68 loss to the No. 2 team in the country, especially when you knocked off the No. 1 team just four days beforehand.
While fouls and free throws dictated Saturday’s game, we learned quite a few things about the No. 11 West Virginia Mountaineers along the way.
In case you missed Saturday’s Big 12 showdown in Norman, Oklahoma, it went like this:
Foul, foul, foul, foul. Oh, and another foul.
A total of 47 fouls were called between the two teams, 27 of them on the Mountaineers. Four WVU starters ended the game with at least three personal fouls, including the team’s usual leading scorer, Devin Williams, who spent a majority of the game on the bench.
“Devin Williams is probably, whatever, a first-team all-league guy if he can play,” said Huggins in his post-game press conference. “He plays 15 minutes, and that doesn’t help us. We wanna sit here and talk about their (Oklahoma) second chance points; it’s a hell of a lot easier for them to get second chance points when he’s (Williams) not on the floor.”
Williams scored a season-low five points while adding six rebounds in the defeat, which is subsequently lower than his season averages of 14.7 PPG and 8.8 RPG.
Fouls and free throws continued to bite WVU in the rear throughout the entire 40-minute game. The Mountaineers made just 13 of 27 (59.1%) free throws while the Sooners hit 27 of 32 (84.4%).
“What kills us is when we go to the free throw line and can’t make free throws. You can’t shoot 50 percent from the free throw line,” said Huggins. “We had shots and we didn’t make them. And then finally, I think it was 15-4 free throws in the first half and we finally got to the free throw line in the second half and then we didn’t make them. So it doesn’t do you much good to get to the free throw line and not make them.”
A loss like this speaks volumes about West Virginia’s outlook through the remaining 13 conference (plus one non-conference) games.
First of all, we already know Bob Huggins’ team can hang around with any team in the nation after the Mountaineers shocked No. 1 Kansas last week. Now that they took No. 2 Oklahoma down to the very last second of the game, we know there isn’t a team that Press Virginia can’t compete with.
Secondly, the WVU defense is capable of shutting down the top player in NCAA basketball. West Virginia held Buddy Hield to just 17 points on 5-11 shots from the field. Hield averages 26.6 PPG and scored a season-high 46 against No. 1 Kansas. If Hield can be contained, WVU should have no problem containing any other single player.
“You just gotta try to find ways to get around the defenders. West Virginia did do a good job face-guarding me,” Hield said after the game.
“You’re not gonna beat West Virginia if you don’t handle the pressure well and at least naturalize them on the boards,” added OU head coach Lon Kruger.
Last but not least, we learned that even when the Mountaineers aren’t playing their best basketball, their intensity and team chemistry (plus top-notch coaching from Huggins) keeps them in position to rally until the final buzzer.
This game was a prime example of that.
Sophomore guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, Jr. struggled to find their shooting rhythm. Carter shot 2-10 (0-3 from three) scoring six points while Miles, Jr. shot 2-6 (0-2 from three) with just five points.
Elijah Macon added nine points off the bench, but was 1-4 from the charity stripe. Tarik Phillip struggled to handle the ball, accounting for four of West Virginia’s 16 total turnovers. He added seven points in the loss.
Senior Jaysean Paige was the only Mountaineer to score in double figures with 18 points.
Just reading those statistics without checking the final score may seem a bit misleading, not in West Virginia’s favor. However, the score was back and forth until the final seconds.
Oklahoma played an almost equally imperfect game, making 18-54 (7-24 from three) shots from the field. When you compare the two team’s statistics, WVU came away with better percentages in almost every category, except the free throw column.
As Kansas head coach Bill Self said following the Jayhawks loss in Morgantown, “When you play a top 10 team on the road, it would be hard for anybody to win… People are gonna lose in this league, and I’d be shocked if anybody runs the table and goes 18-0.”
Four teams now lead the Big 12 conference rankings with 4-1 records: Oklahoma (15-1), Kansas (15-2), West Virginia (15-2) and Baylor (14-3).
Cover image credit: Jeff Ruff, BGS