The Times West Virginian

February 6, 2014

Mountaineers pull off OT win over Sooners, 91-86

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Eron Harris had a simple explanation for inexplicable Wednesday night.

“The basketball gods looked out for me,” he said minutes after West Virginia somehow found a way to pull out a pulsating 91-86 overtime victory against No. 21 Oklahoma before 7,538 fans at the Coliseum.

It was the Mountaineers’ fourth triumph in their last five games, bringing their record to 14-9, 6-4 in the Big 12, putting them in a tie for third place in the conference with the Sooners.

More to the point, it was their first victory over a ranked team since beating Georgetown in January … 2012. That was a 16-game losing streak to teams ranked in the polls, the longest in school history.

WVU Coach Bob Huggins pooh-poohed finally beating a ranked team.

“When you play in this conference, it’s hard. We can’t make the schedule any easier. People want to see big games, so (you) have to give them that. I don’t put any more value over beating a ranked team than anyone else,” Huggins said. “None of that even matters. I don’t think it makes that big of a difference. It’s about people’s Rating Percentage Index (RPI.) It’s about that. We have to win, and we have win enough of them.”

But back to Harris and the basketball gods, who seemed to have forgotten him through a first half in which he played only 8 minutes and made 1 of 3 field goal attempts, scoring just two points.

Who could have guessed he’d come out after intermission and hit nine of 15 shots, 60 percent, many of them from nearly another area code? He finished with 28 points, hitting six of 13 3s.

Explain it?

“What makes me shoot better in the second half than the first?” he said, repeating the question. “In the first half, it’s different. It doesn’t mean as much. In the second half, it’s all or nothing. You shoot it and the shot has got to go in.”

To Harris, it has almost nothing to do with him.

He thought back, for example, to the Oklahoma State game when he hit six of seven 3s, almost all of it in the second half while scoring 21 points in 21 minutes.

“That game was as good as I’ve ever felt. If I shot it I knew it was going in,” he said. “But tonight, half the shots I didn’t know if they would go in or not. I put the ball in the air and they went in.”

And WVU needed every one of them, even though they tried to give away a 14-point lead that they held as late as with 18:47 left in the game. In fact, that lead eventually became a deficit down the stretch to a Sooner team that had been fighting its own demons for almost a full day.

The trip to Morgantown had been nightmarish from the start for Oklahoma, so there really was no reason for them to expect to catch a break at the end of it.

It started Tuesday in Oklahoma City, but not until after a four-hour delay, then a change of planes.

A change of plans might have been better, for rather being able to fly into Clarksburg, they were detoured to Newark, finally arriving at a Newark hotel at 3:30 … in the morning.

OK, you’re a sports team; you make due. They left wakeup calls for a 10:30 a.m. breakfast, a film study and then they were scheduled to leave Newark at 2 p.m. That would have worked fine, had there not been an hour delay for a mechanical problem with the plane — perhaps the rubber band broke.

They wound up landing in Clarksburg at 4 p.m. and got a police escort to Morgantown, arriving at the Coliseum at 5:34 for the 7 p.m. game.

Sooner coach Lon Kruger did not use it as an excuse.

“I didn’t see that affecting them. These guys are young and they love to play. I didn’t see any of it today,” he said.

West Virginia had trailed by 3 at 81-78 with 20.2 seconds left when Harris canned one of those 3-point shots that was deep enough that it should have counted for four points, tying the score at 81 with 20.2 seconds left.

“I told them, I’m 60, we’ve got to stop doing this,” Huggins joked.

Oklahoma’s Isaiah Cousins missed a late 3 and Nathan Adrian grabbed off the rebound to force overtime.

Things now began bouncing back and forth, Harris hitting one long, long 3, then coming up way short on another, but when Staten hit a wide open jumper, his last basket of 20-point performance, WVU led 89-86 but the craziness was just beginning.

First Oklahoma missed a couple of close-in shots with the ball eventually residing in Devin Williams’ hands on what looked like a rebound but was ruled a steal. Whatever, he called time out to keep the possession with 36.4 seconds left.

Now Gary Browne was trying to bring the ball up the court for the Mountaineers, only to have it knocked loose from his dribble, a golden chance for Oklahoma but the ball, as if honing in with radar, went straight to Staten.

“Gary Browne is the kind of turnover, re-turnover,” Huggins said.

“I could see what was happening,” Staten said. “There were two guys on Gary and the ball popped loose to me.”

Staten was fouled, made 1 of 2 free throws, then Adrian made a steal with 14 seconds left and did the same to make it 91-86.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter at @bhertzel.