West Virginia can’t wait to get home after a disappointing stretch of early-season road games.
The Mountaineers fell to 1-3 on Sunday, losing 77-70 to fellow Big 12 member Oklahoma in the third-place game of the Old Spice Classic. Bob Huggins’ team won’t play its first home game until Wednesday night against VMI.
“If I was concerned about my career record I wouldn’t do what I did with the schedule,” said Huggins. “The only problem with that is if you don’t win enough games, you’re not going to go to the NCAA tournament.”
First came a 34-point loss at Gonzaga on Nov. 12. After beating Marist and losing to Davidson in Orlando, the Mountaineers faced a Sooners team also picked to finish in the middle of the Big 12 conference.
Though it never led in the second half, West Virginia drew even at 62-all on two free throws by Gray Browne with six minutes left. But Oklahoma countered with seven unanswered points, including a 3-pointer in transition by Je’lon Hornbeak. The freshman finished with 14 points and five rebounds, combining with fellow newcomer Amath M’Baye to lift the Sooners’ record to 4-1.
M’Baye, the transfer from Wyoming, scored 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. Oklahoma shot 47 percent from the floor.
With a day off to prepare for Oklahoma, Huggins said his staff devoted portions of a practice, a shoot-around and a film session to emphasizing the Sooners’ tendencies. Yet he felt his big men didn’t absorb the defensive game plan.
“You’d have to be deaf not to know they’re going to go right, and how many times did we get beat right?” he said. “Bottom line is we’re not tough enough, we’re not mentally tough enough.”
West Virginia shot 36 percent overall and only 4-of-14 (28 percent) from 3-point range.
Juwan Staten had 15 points and three assists to lead WVU. Deniz Kilicli, despite picking up two fouls in the first five minutes, scored 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting. But the senior missed several in-close opportunities against Oklahoma’s athletic forwards and finished 1-of-4 from the foul line, dropping him to 6-of-18 for the season.
“It almost gets to the point of why do you throw it into a guy in the post knowing that if he’s going to get fouled, he’s not going to make a free throw,” Huggins said.
Kilicli’s replacement, Kevin Noreen, also picked up two quick fouls, and center Aaric Murray (eight points, nine rebounds) missed a chunk of the second half after getting whistled for his fourth foul. The Sooners held a 32-20 edge in points in the paint, as Huggins played a small lineup to combat the foul trouble affecting his big men.
Browne shot just 1-of-6 but scored 13 points off the bench, thanks to going 10-of-11 at the free-throw line.
Huggins started his fourth different lineup in as many games, inserting freshman Terry Henderson, who finished 1-of-6 for two points. Jabarie Hinds scored nine on 3-of-8 shooting. Transfer Matt Humphrey did not play in the first half and missed both shots he attempted in the second.
Senior forward Dominique Rutledge, coming off a three-game suspension, contributed two points, four rebounds and four fouls.
Huggins, moments before boarding the charter flight back to Morgantown, implored fans not to overlook the VMI game, saying his struggling team could use a boost inside the confines of WVU Coliseum.
“Now’s the time when these guys need some help,” he said. “Everybody knows I love our people, and we need a bunch of people to come out.”