The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

January 12, 2014

WVU can’t overcome OSU in final minutes

MORGANTOWN — In the end, what looked like it would be a new dawn for West Virginia University’s basketball team was nothing more than the same old story.

We could break out the clichés about WVU’s 73-72 loss to No. 11 Oklahoma State:

• Close but no cigar.

• Close only counts in horseshoes.

• Etc., etc., etc.

We’ve been there before.

WVU gets to the finish line and stumbles just before it can break the tape.

You saw it with Wisconsin, with Gonzaga, with Purdue.

And now you saw it with Oklahoma State and if WVU doesn’t find a way to win a game against a big-time team soon – the Mountaineers have not won against a Top 20 team in two years – well, they may never figure it out.

“Once again we lost a game we had, or could have had,” said guard Eron Harris. “This is a big team. Everyone is saying we can beat these teams. We CAN beat these teams. We almost beat Wisconsin. We almost beat Purdue. We almost beat Gonzaga. Every big game we’ve had we could have won.”

But they didn’t. This time, with 11 seconds left, everyone’s All-American Marcus Smart, who earlier had grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw, made a nifty pass to Markel Brown, who drained a 3.

Smart had one of two double-doubles in the game, WVU’s Devin Williams also recording one with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Smart finished 22 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal.

“It isn’t what he does,” said Harris. “It’s what his will and desire to make the big play. It was the pass and the rebound that made the difference.”

After the Brown 3, WVU had time. Everyone knew Juwan Staten would have the ball.

He was having another of those great games of his, 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting at that point, that coming after a 25-point game against Texas Tech in which he made 10 of 12 shots.

All game he had been able to weave his way to the basket and this was no different, running into traffic. As he got there bodies were slammed and he took the final shot.

“There were 11 seconds,” he said when asked to explain the final drive. “I tried to get to the rim. I took the shot, but I didn’t see what happened. I don’t know if someone batted it. I just saw it bounce away. I thought I got it high enough to go over the rim, but maybe I didn’t.”

And it was over. Oh, it was over except for 0.6 seconds and a foul that didn’t matter.

“It hurts, especially when you are shooting good,” Staten said.

One shot fell, one didn’t.

Why didn’t it go in?

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” coach Bob Huggins said. “I don’t know why the ball didn’t go in. I don’t know why we didn’t tip it in when it didn’t go in. If it goes in we’re sitting around here talking about how far we’ve come. We got it at the rim. We got it at the rim with guy who has finished more goals at the rim than all our guys put together.”

Is West Virginia beginning to question whether it can beat ranked teams?

Harris says no.

“You see what we can do against big teams. We had the game. It was right there,” Harris said. “Think about what they did. They hit the shot; we missed the shot. That’s it right there.

“Every time we lose, we beat ourselves,” he continued. “It’s something we didn’t do during the course of the game that led to us having to hit a bucket to win the game. They did more right things than we did.”

Why?

That is so hard to answer, part of what happens when you lose close games.

“It might be everything, effort in practice. We’ll keep at it … practice, practice, practice. What you do in practice is what you do in a game? We have to start having people accountable for what they do in practice. Huggs will let us know,” said Harris.

This one certainly was a war.

“We have played three games in the Big 12 and I do not think I have seen three more physical contests in my career,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said.

It was physical and it was even. The rebounds showed WVU with 38, Oklahoma State with 35.

But Smart had that rebound on a free throw. You can imagine Huggins’ reaction.

“We’re standing on the foul line and all we had to do was block them out. We didn’t even think about blocking out someone who is probably a first-team All-American. We just stood there. I don’t know how you do that, but we did,” he said.

WVU had one more assist than turnover, OSU one more turnover than assist. Both teams had 8 3s. OSU had 27 field goals, WVU 24, but WVU hit 16 of 19 free throws while the Cowboys scored 11.

So now WVU is 10-5 with a 2-1 record in the Big 12 and thoughts of the NCAA Tournament grew a little bit dimmer with a quick turnaround, Texas coming into the Coliseum on Monday night.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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