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January 11, 2014

WVU must play Smart to beat Oklahoma State

MORGANTOWN — From 1965 to 1970, there was a hit television sitcom entitled “Get Smart,” a very funny spoof on the James Bond secret agent rage of the era.

This afternoon at the Coliseum, West Virginia University will stage its own version of “Get Smart,” only there doesn’t figure to be anything funny about it because unlike the villain in TV show KAOS, which went after the fictional hero Maxwell Smart, West Virginia will be chasing down a real-life hero in Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, last year’s Big 12 Player of the Year.

Game time is 4 p.m. and it will be carried on WDTV.

Like Maxwell Smart on the TV show, Marcus Smart is surrounded by a strong cast of supporting players – none quite as good looking at Barbara Feldon was – in his Cowboy teammates who have gotten off to a 13-2 start (1-1 in the Big 12) and carry a No. 11/12 ranking.

WVU is 10-5 and 2-0 in the conference but is hungry for a signature victory, and it can get one against Oklahoma State, although it will be far more challenging than anything Maxwell Smart every undertook in his fictional role.

“They are the most athletic team we have played to this point,” coach Bob Huggins said.

And it is Smart who leads the way.

“Smart is terrific, does so many things for them, but they have lot of guys who are extremely athletic,” Huggins said. “(Kaman) Murphy is a heck of a shot blocker, and they are all so quick to the ball. Smart has made some just eye-popping blocks.”

Then there is Markel Brown.

“He was leading the league in scoring a year ago. He’s right back up there again (averaging 17.1 points a game). He bounces it better than a year ago, and Smart shoots it better than a year ago,” Huggins said.

It is Oklahoma State’s athleticism and speed that worries Huggins.

“You try to keep them out of transition,” he said. “The best way to keep them out of transition is to score. We need to take quick shots, but we need to be selective with our shots. What we can’t do is bang them off the front of the rim. That comes off like an outlet pass, and they are off to the races.”

You don’t want to turn this basketball game into a track meet.

“They lead the league in steals. I don’t think there’s any question they are the fastest team in the league. They transition from one end to the other faster than anybody else,” Huggins said.

That puts a lot of pressure on Juwan Staten, WVU’s star point guard who is coming off a 25-point effort at Texas Tech, to control not only the tempo of the game but to try and protect the basketball, something that won’t be easy.

Staten not only is averaging 16.8 points a game with 6 assists per contest, but he also averages 6.1 rebounds a game and has taken down 6 or more in seven of the last nine games.

Rebounding will be key in this game, and WVU is coming off a game at Texas Tech where it was punished on the boards.

“We have to rebound the ball. When we rebound well, that forces people to send more people to the glass. They can’t leak out as much (and run in transition),” Huggins said.

WVU also could use a hot shooting hand from its leading scorer, Eron Harris. Harris is second the Big 12 at 18.5 points a game and also second in 3-point field goals made with 41, but he is coming off a bad shooting game against Texas Tech, although it’s hard to convince anyone of that since he scored 18 points.

Huggins isn’t worried about it turning into a shooting slump.

“He’s a guy who doesn’t seem to be bothered as much as other people. Missing a shot bothers Terry Henderson more than it does Eron Harris,” Huggins said. “I think a lot of that is guys that can score kind of have that mentality. They figure they miss one, they’ll make the next one. I think Eron is a lot that way.”

WVU will go into the game for the first time knowing that Jonathan Holton will not be available to play this year, the NCAA turning down WVU’s request to allow him to play.

Holton, who transferred to West Virginia from Palm Beach State Community College, will continue to practice with the team. He will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2014-15 season.

“I know Jonathan is disappointed by not being able to compete this season, but he has had a terrific attitude in practice and will use this redshirt season to work on his game and become a better basketball player,” said Huggins.

“We look forward to Jonathan having two full seasons of eligibility remaining.”

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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