MORGANTOWN — Without seniors Juwan Staten, Gary Browne and Kevin Noreen in the lineup, the West Virginia men’s basketball team led all the way in Saturday’s regular-season finale, whipping Oklahoma State by 81-72.
The largest crowd of the season (13,714 fans) couldn’t have picked a better time than Senior Day to see the No. 20 Mountaineers. The performance was one of the season’s best, quality-wise.
In the process, West Virginia made its record 23-8 overall and 11-7 in the Big 12 Conference standings. This triumph snapped a two-game losing streak, including last Tuesday’s 76-69 overtime loss at Kansas — the biggest heartbreaker of the year for WVU.
Leading by 18 points in that winnable game, the Mountaineers faltered and let a season series sweep slip away.
Saturday’s series sweep of Oklahoma State was WVU’s fourth of the season. The others were against Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State.
In topping 80 points for the eighth time, West Virginia shot 52 percent from the field in the first half and 48.1 percent (25-of-52) for the game.
The Cowboys shot 60.9 percent in the first half and 54.2 percent for the game (26-of-48).
West Virginia cashed 23-of-30 from the free throw line while Oklahoma State made 9-of-11, well enough for 81.8 percent.
According to the official box score, the visitors were not awarded a single free throw in the first half.
The Mountaineers outrebounded the Cowboys, 33-22.
Sophomore Forward Devin Williams led the Mountaineers with 22 points and 13 rebounds in 32 minutes of action. In doing so, the 6-foot-9 leader notched his eighth double-double of the season.
Freshman Guard Daxter Miles Jr., who hit 5-of-10 shots from the field, finished with 15 points for WVU.
Oklahoma State (18-12, 13-15 Big 12) had better scoring balance with four players in double figures. Guard Jeff Newberry tallied a game-high 23 points for the Cowboys, making 8-of-11 shots from the field and four free throws.
OSU had 15 turnovers to 13 by WVU, and each team came up with six steals apiece.
Bob Huggins, the veteran WVU head coach, obviously has done a great job developing this talented but young team. It slowly but surely has shown steady improvement.
There has been a slip here and there along the way, as there is for other teams. What the Mountaineers have done without Staten and Browne the past three games is absolutely surprising, though, and encouraging for the future.
“We lost that (Kansas) game, but the positive to come out of it was that we attacked first and we were aggressive the whole night,” Williams said. “That has carried us over. We were aggressive and playing free (Saturday). We were punching people in the mouth.”
Huggins said, “Devin (Williams) was obviously very good at the free throw line (making 14-of-15). But we still missed some free throws.
“You don’t understand it unless you’ve done it, but it’s a lot easier to make free throws when you’re up by 10 (points) instead of one or two.”
That’s what the situation was, unfortunately, that cost the Mountaineers later in the game at Kansas.
Now West Virginia must prepare for the Big 12 Conference Tournament this week at Kansas City, Mo.
The No. 5-seeded Mountaineers will play No. 4-seeded Baylor (23-8, 11-7) at 12:30 p.m., on Thursday. The game will be televised by ESPN2.