By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Reality hit West Virginia University in the gut Wednesday as No. 23 Oklahoma showed the Mountaineers almost every reason why they are not an NCAA Tournament team this year, pulling away in the second half to a 72-62 victory in Norman.
The Sooners, now 22-8 and 11-6 in the Big 12, exposed every flaw in an extremely flawed Mountaineer team that now returns home for its final regular-season game against Big 12 champion Kansas on Saturday with a 16-14 overall record and 8-9 in conference play.
It now would take a miracle to reach the NCAA Tournament, having to beat Kansas to get some street cred, then make a huge run in the Big 12 Tournament, probably all the way to the final game.
To begin with, WVU showed itself to be completely reliant on Juwan Staten and Eron Harris to have any chance. Staten had a marvelous game, scoring 24 points, but he was on his own for Harris had his worst game of the season.
Harris, averaging 18 points a game, scored but 5, making only two of nine shots. He turned the ball over three times, spent most of the first half on the bench with two early fouls, then fouled out in the closing minutes.
Harris became more and more frustrated as the game went on until really he couldn’t do anything right.
With Harris playing but absent and Terry Henderson seated, but at least present, WVU had no chance. It could not play defense, kept in contention only because Oklahoma missed a silo full of open 3s, actually taking more than half of its 55 shots from 3-point range.
Neither Harris nor Nathan Adrian, who also had foul trouble, could guard anyone.
Then there was a matter of free-throw shooting. West Virginia didn’t take any in the first half, didn’t make its first free throw until 36 minutes had been played and finished making just 4 of 10. Oklahoma made 15 … a difference of 11 in a game that ended with a 10-point difference.
The Mountaineers entered the game with their spirits boosted due to Henderson’s presence, in uniform after missing three consecutive games due to illness.
“I don’t think he can play,” Huggins said before the game, noting that his No. 3 scorer had lost “between 15 and 18 pounds” in the time he was ill and that he didn’t have much endurance back yet.
“We can maybe play him a couple of minutes here and there,” was as much as Huggins would commit to at the moment.
And Henderson, needed badly in the first half as first Adrian and then Harris were sent to the bench with two fouls, sat the entire half.
If it hadn’t been for Staten, the game would have been over by the half.
This is how the scoring went in the first half, Oklahoma had 33 points, Staten 16, the rest of Mountaineers 12.
So, it was 33-28 at halftime, Staten keeping it from being a runaway by scoring the final six points of the half.
In some ways this was a lot like the first game between these two teams, a game won by WVU in overtime, 91-86.
In that game Harris was ill and didn’t start, collecting only two points at halftime, putting a tremendous burden on Staten. Answering the call, Staten took 19 shots in the game and finishing the game with 20 points while Harris took over in the second half.
He finished the game with 28 points, scoring 26 in the final 20 minutes and overtime … and you knew he’d come out firing in the second half of this game.
Only it didn’t happen. Everywhere he went there was a defender in his face, and even when he got free it didn’t matter.
In WVU’s last two road games, Harris is just 6-for-23 from the field and has scored 20 points while hitting 1-of-8 from 3-point range.
WVU did come out and make a difference early in the second half, taking a 43-40 lead only to be outscored 32-19 the rest of the way.
Senior Cameron Clark enjoyed his Senior Night with 19 points while team high scorer Buddy Hield proved to be the difference in the second half, finishing with 13 points after only scoring one point in the first half.
“We didn’t guard. That’s not a news flash though,” Huggins said. “When you spend two days game planning not to let Buddy Heild beat you and he hits three in a row. We had one guy they scored 11 consecutive points on.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.