West Virginia survived a near upset Wednesday night, knocking off Oakland 76-71. Despite the win, the mood was rather somber after the game.
“Personally, I think we’re still trying to find ourselves,” said point guard Juwan Staten. “We find a way to be in every game, but it’s just kind of pulling it out at the end.”
Despite shooting 52.9 percent, the Mountaineers (5-5) struggled to put the Golden Grizzlies away, trailing at the break, 39-37. “We let them hit a couple of shots because we didn’t rotate,” said Staten. “They got a lot of offensive rebounds which led to some put-backs. That was really the big thing that had us down.”
West Virginia was outrebounded 34-32, while Oakland also outscored the Mountaineers on points off of turnovers 17-8.
“I feel like we were moving forward after the Virginia Tech win, but then we came out flat against Duquesne and we’ve been up and down,” Staten said. “We just have to find some consistency.”
Consistent for Oakland, meanwhile, was guard Travis Bader, who knocked down six 3-pointers and finished with 25 points. He missed a chance to tie the game at 74, however, with nine seconds to go.
“I think everybody in the gym knew it was coming to me on that play,” Bader said.
It was at the 12-minute mark when Bader was forced to exit after picking up his fourth foul, which allowed the Mountaineers to create a bit of a cushion before the final stretch of the game.
“That slowed them down a little bit and he’s definitely their go-to guy,” Staten said. “Once he went out of the game that forced them to go to a different option and that helped us pick up our defense a little bit.”
Staten, meanwhile, finished the game with 11 points – one of four WVU players in double figures. Keaton Miles added a spark with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting, including two big 3s.
“I just caught the ball in rhythm and Dominique (Rutledge) did a good job of drawing in the defense with his drive and just kicked it out,” Miles said. “I applauded him for it because he got me open and I just knocked it down.”
Aaric Murray led West Virginia with 12 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots – all in 24 minutes of action. Murray didn’t even make the trip last week for the game against Michigan.
“You don’t want to miss another trip and I want to make sure I do what I have to do to play,” Murray said.
And his effort on Wednesday, specifically, didn’t go unnoticed.
“Aaric has had a greater sense of urgency since the Michigan game and he’s been great in practice,” Staten said. “He’s been rebounding and real positive. Tonight was just a carry over from practice.”
It was a sign of consistency that coach Bob Huggins hopes to see more of down the road.
“Aaric will have a couple of good days and then he will have a real bad day,” Huggins said. “He mirrors our team in a lot of ways. We get things going and then we have a hard time with prosperity.”
Deniz Kilicli, meanwhile, continued to struggle from the floor, missing a couple of close shots and finishing 0-of-3 in just nine minutes of action.
For Oakland (4-8), the trip to West Virginia represented the latest rung in a difficult non-conference slate.
“They’re strong and physical like Michigan State and Pitt, very similar to those type of teams,” Bader said. “They haven’t been shooting the ball very well up to this point but tonight, obviously, they shot it like 60 percent or whatever.”
WVU was 14-of-21 at the foul line, while Oakland made only 15-of-24, including a missed one-and-one by Corey Petros with 18.8 seconds left.
“We’re disappointed in the outcome — we came here to win,” said Oakland coach Greg Kampe. “Unfortunately we weren’t able to make the free throws and the key plays to do it.”
Up next for the Mountaineers will be a Saturday afternoon contest against Radford.