A second half burst of offense by Oklahoma gave the Sooners the lead they needed to defeat West Virginia in Morgantown, 73-62, as No. 20 continued struggling to find points.
While neither team could establish a firm advantage in the first half, Oklahoma’s Kristian Doolittle and Brady Manek put together double-digit scoring totals out of the halftime break to build what would prove to be an insurmountable 21-point lead.
The Mountaineers’ gameplan was to get the ball inside and score under the basket, which they did early. Oscar Tshiebwe began to assert his will, nearly logging a double-double in the first half with 7 points and 8 rebounds.
One of the major differences in the half would be three-point shooting. The Mountaineers made just a single three-pointer in the period, while OU sunk 4. The Sooners weren’t exactly hot from deep, making just 30.8 percent of their first-half threes — but that is juxtaposed with WVU’s 1-of-10 mark behind the arc in the same period.
The Mountaineers’ shooting woes were exacerbated by 10 straight misses to end the first half.
The second half is really where the Sooners began to pull away. With a newfound aggression, Oklahoma’s first six field goals coming out of the break would come either from downtown or at the rim. Within five minutes, a five-point halftime deficit for WVU turned into a double-digit lead that would soon progress into the game-high 21-point advantage.
Much of that firepower would came from Doolittle and Manek, who combined for 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting in the second half. Doolittle finished with a game-high 19 points, while Manek wasn’t too far behind with 15.
In total, four Sooners would find double figures in scoring, with the others being Jamal Bieniemy (12 points) and Austin Reaves (13).
While the offense was taking off for Oklahoma, it was stagnant for West Virginia — but Bob Huggins says scoring issues were not the main reason for tonight’s loss.
“That’s not what killed us,” Huggins said. “What killed us is we have a guy pinned on the sideline, and we back off of him for some reason. I have no idea why we would do that, and he makes a three. Then, we leave a guy who we said, ‘don’t leave.’ He steps into another three, and then we have a guy split a trap, which is a no-no. He shoots it and goes and gets his own rebound. He tips it in for a three-point play, and [their lead] goes from 4 to 13.”
The 21-point deficit seemed to flip a switch in the Mountaineers. Miles McBride and Chase Harler led West Virginia on a 14-4 run to get the Mountaineers back within 11. Sean McNeil then hit a three-pointer for WVU to get the deficit back to single digits.
That was too little, too late for the Mountaineers, as they resorted to late-game fouling to extend the game. The Sooners hit their shots from the stripe, officially putting it out of reach for WVU.
“I thought our energy was okay at the end of the game,” Huggins said. “We need to know where our man is. we need to follow the scouting report. When they’re told don’t leave somebody, then don’t leave them. When they’re told to press up on them and make them bounce it, they need to press up on them and make them bounce it. They made shots. You have to give them credit.”
McBride finished with a team-high 13, while Tshiebwe and Taz Sherman would follow behind with 9.
In the midst of the Mountaineers’ slump, Huggins pondered his team’s menality as they hit the homestretch.
“Most of the time, guys — at least my guys — when they get on a losing streak, they come out ready to fight,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of fight in us. Maybe it’s the kind of ugys they are. We have good guys, I keep telling you that. They’re good people, they do a lot of godo things in the community.”
When it came to passing the buck, though, he was clear about where the responsibility lies.
“If you want to blame a leader, blame me. That’s my responsibility,” he said.
West Virginia has two more contests to salvage a first-round bye in the Big 12 Tournament, as they sit tied with TCU at 7-9 in the conference standings. It starts on Tuesday when they head to Iowa State for a road clash with the Cyclones before returning to close their regular season out against No. 2 Baylor at home on Saturday.