MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – (January 2, 2021) — In the first game without forward Oscar Tshiebwe, No. 9-ranked West Virginia fell short to Oklahoma, 75-71, after trailing 18 at the half.
It was an abysmal first half performance by the Mountaineers (8-3, 1-2 Big 12), shooting 23% from the field.
As WVU was facing a 38-20 deficit at halftime, an unpredictable player was having an amazing night.
Jalen Bridges got the nod to start for the Mountaineers, replacing Tshiebwe. Starting your first game in Division I may be nerve-racking.
Bridges was nervous before the game until he started hitting shots.
“Leading up to the game, I kind of had nerves. I was kind of shaky. I was overthinking it,” Bridges said. “As soon as we arrived at the gym, my teammates just came together with me. They told me to just play your game and be aggressive.”
“I probably got my jitters out in the first 30 seconds,” Bridges added.
The Fairmont High alumni finished the game with 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Bridges shot 5-of-6 from three against the Sooners (6-2, 2-1 Big 12).
Once the Mountaineers came back out for the second half, Bridges got some help from teammate Taz Sherman.
Sherman just seemed like he was having a half as Sean McNeil did against Kansas ten days ago.
The senior finished with 19 points of his own. After starting the game 0-of-5, Sherman shot 7-of-11 in the second half with 4-threes.
Mountaineer fans got to see the test run of what the situations will be like when the big men go in foul trouble after losing Tshiebwe and Isaiah Cottrell (Achilles).
Derek Culver had a rough day picking up his third foul early in the second half. WVU coach Bob Huggins has found a small flaw in Culver’s game.
“All of the great centers get doubled,” Huggins said. “You have to learn how to live with it. He hasn’t learned how to live with it yet.”
From there, Huggins ran a six-man rotation of Bridges, Sherman, McNeil, Emmitt Matthews Jr., Deuce McBride and Gabe Osabuohien. It was a nice style of small ball as the Mountaineers picked at the huge deficit.
West Virginia cut the lead down to a one-possession game with about a minute left. After a free throw battle between the foes, Oklahoma was able to sustain their original lead when the clock struck triple-zeroes.
The Mountaineers struggled to stop Oklahoma guard Umoja Gibson the entire game. Gibson finished the game with 29 points, making 8-of-11 three-point attempts.
West Virginia will get one day of rest and travel to prepare for Oklahoma State on Monday night. Mountaineers and Cowboys will tip-off at 9 p.m. on ESPN2.