By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
West Virginia University cut two 17-point deficits to three points in the second half on Wednesday but could not overcome its own mistakes and dropped its fifth straight game, 83-70 to Oklahoma in Norman.
It marked the first time that Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins had ever lost five straight games in his career and gave his team 17 losses for the first time since he began coaching.
Freshman guard Eron Harris did all he could on the offensive end, hitting five 3s and totaling 23 points, while senior center Deniz Kilicli played his heart out as he scored 20 points.
The Sooners rode the hot hand of Romero Osby, who had 16 points at the half and finished with 26, while Steven Pledger scored 23, hitting 5 3-point shots.
The game was completely out of character for the Mountaineers, who played better in the second half than the first and who actually shot better than the Sooners, hitting 53 percent to 50 percent for Oklahoma.
Since Huggins had come to WVU, his teams were 107-6 when they shot better than their opponents.
WVU also has been a team known for its rebounding but in this game they were outrebounded 33-25 and gave up 14 offensive rebounds as the Sooners dominated inside.
“We lost three times to Oklahoma because they absolutely kicked our behinds on the offensive boards,” Huggins said after the game.
WVU trailed by 17 at 25-8 early and again at 37-20 in the first half but drew within three on a furious second-half rally that was led by Harris, Kilicli and Aaric Murray.
Late in the game, the Mountaineers got it down to 68-64, then completely fell apart. Terry Henderson had a defensive breakdown, leading to an open three. Harris made a bad pass to turn the ball over, and then Kilicli failed to get back on defense and Harris didn’t cover for him on another basket and the lead swelled to 9.
The scouting report was generous in its praise of the Sooners forward Romero Osby, who had been overwhelming everyone he faced over the past five games.
“Osby has been on a great run,” Huggins said to his radio audience prior to the game.
The radio audience paid attention, although it didn’t look as though his players did.
Osby overwhelmed the Mountaineers with 16 first-half points, hitting mid-range jumpers and taking advantage of a physical mismatch with whatever WVU big man who was assigned to guard him.
He hit 5 of 9 field goals including a 3, tossed in 5 of 6 free throws and had three rebounds as the Sooners stretched the lead as high as 17 points at 25-8, but WVU wasn’t about to just fold up the tent and go away.
True, they couldn’t match Oklahoma basket for basket, considering that they had gone a month without scoring 70 points in a game while Oklahoma was averaging better than 80 points a game over its last five games, but they finally figured out a way to get the ball to Kilicli.
That was what Huggins had planned all along, but had trouble doing it early.
“Deniz had great shots against Kansas but didn’t make them,” Huggins said, referring to a 1-for-7 performance in that blowout loss. “We have to throw the ball to him and he has to do a better job finishing.”
He finally took charge with some really strong moves to the basket late in the first half, putting 12 points on the board and it could have been more if he could have done better than 2-of-6 from the free-throw line.
He scored WVU’s last 10 of the half as the Mountaineers cut the lead to 39-28, hardly what you it to be but at least close enough to keep everyone in America from turning the channel to “The Bible” on the History Channel.
WVU’s defense, meanwhile, kept the Sooners in check late, allowing only three field goals in the final 10 minutes of the half.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.