By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University’s dreams of turning a home victory over TCU into a run that would carry it into post-season play came to a screeching halt Saturday as the Mountaineers blew a 13-point lead and lost to Oklahoma State, 80-66, in Stillwater, Okla.
Despite a big game from freshman guard Eron Harris, who led all WVU scorers with 17 points while hitting 5 of 8 3-pointers and 6 of 10 shots overall, and a strong effort from senior Deniz Kilicli, the Mountaineers could do nothing to stop a 3-point barrage from the Cowboys.
Freshman guard Phil Forte, who was averaging 11 points a game, bombarded WVU for a career-high 26 points, 6 of 11 threes, while another freshman guard Markel Brown, hit 4 of 6 threes and finished with 24 points.
The result was WVU slipped beneath .500 again at 9-10 for the season and 2-4 in Big 12 play, while Oklahoma State now stands at 13-5 and 3-4 in league competition.
Prior to the game, Harris spoke of how the TCU victory at home on Wednesday had raised their hopes that things were changing for the Mountaineers.
“We’re trying to get a run going so we can get chosen for the tournament. That’s our only hope now, play hard, game by game,” he said.
And early on it appeared as if the Mountaineers might just be off and running, leading by 13 at 24-11 with 5:29 left in the half.
It was then that Forte hit a 3 and things began to change, so much so you could almost sense it happening.
“The whole things starts when we’re up 11,” Coach Bob Huggins said following the defeat. “We got a layup and we can’t get the ball over the rim … they cherry pick and get a dunk at the other end.”
It was as simple as that, and as predictable, according to Huggins.
“And it’s a guy that has missed 50 of them this year,” he said of the missed layup.
Oklahoma State closed the half on a 19-3 run and actually took a lead into the locker room at halftime.
And the worst was yet to come, beginning with Markel Brown taking charge.
“Brown started the whole deal of the second half,” Huggins said, referring to him opening the scoring with a 3-point shot. “They scored 13 of their first 15 possessions. We just don’t guard. We don’t guard a shooter we spent tons of time working on.”
That shooter was Forte, who went unconscious with his shooting from behind the arc, one of them coming from a full 8 feet behind the 3-point line.
He made it look easy, except when WVU tried to make a 3 it looked like the most difficult thing to do in the world.
“Our problem is we can make one, but I don’t know if we can make two in a row … and their guy can make seven in a row,” Huggins said.
What bothers Huggins most is that he has made a good part of his career on his team’s ability to guard 3-point shooters, to keep them from getting open looks and just bombing away.
Leaving shooters open?
“We’ve never done it … we have been one of the best in the country at guarding the 3-point line,” Huggins said.
And so the lead grew and grew and grew, Harris trying to do what he could to keep WVU in it with his shooting and Kilicli and Aaric Murray having decent inside games.
Kilicli finished with 12 points, five rebounds, a couple of blocks and a couple of assists, while Murray had a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, but that couldn’t make up for 2-for-7 shooting by Terry Henderson, who has to help out from the outside, and from Jabarie Hinds, who continued his shooting problems by hitting 2 of 9.
WVU was without outside threat Matt Humphrey, whose shoulder acted up on him again. He remained in Morgantown.
Things do not get any better come Monday when the Mountaineers return home to face Big 12 leader Kansas, which has won 17 straight games. It’s a stripe the house promotion for national television.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.