MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Apparently Oklahoma State felt a slight hangover from its loss to Kansas. And the cure, odd though it seemed, was seeing star point guard Marcus Smart pick up three fouls in the first 2 1/2 minutes.
“It wasn’t the start we were looking for, but in some strange way, maybe it was something we needed,” said coach Travis Ford after the No. 14 Cowboys pounded West Virginia 73-57 on Saturday.
“In the locker room prior to the game, I didn’t think we had the energy level that we needed. But guys figured out that with Marcus Smart out of the game, that we were in trouble.”
What should have been WVU’s path to an upset became Oklahoma State’s rallying cause. Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown scored 16 points, and Smart returned to form in the second half to finish with 14 points as the Cowboys (20-6, 10-4) swept the season series.
“I’ve always taken pride in the fact that I can get guys to play hard, that I can get guys to compete. For some reason I haven’t been able to reach these guys, which is my fault. I should have been able to find a way to reach them.” — Bob Huggins
The Mountaineers (13-14, 6-8) slipped to 0-8 against the Big 12’s top six teams and sent coach Bob Huggins into another postgame diatribe regarding his players’ insufficient effort.
“I’ve always taken pride in the fact that I can get guys to play hard, that I can get guys to compete,” he said. “For some reason I haven’t been able to reach these guys, which is my fault. I should have been able to find a way to reach them.”
West Virginia, led off the bench by Aaric Murray’s 11 points and Matt Humphrey’s 10, shot only 30 percent and committed 17 turnovers compared to only seven assists.
The game had a bizarre opening, with OSU’s Smart picking up three fouls in the first 2:34. He walked toward the bench after his second foul as coach Travis Ford sent Kirby Gardner to check in. But when play resumed, Gardner was still kneeling at the scorer’s table, and Smart jumped backed into the defensive flow, picking up his third foul seconds later after colliding with two WVU players in pursuit of a loose ball.
“We had a guy at the scorer’s table ready to go check in,” Ford said. “For some reason, he didn’t get in the game, and that upset me, to say the least.”
Despite 31-percent shooting, and going without a basket for eight minutes in one stretch, WVU trailed only 35-33 at half thanks to Murray’s putback dunk just before the buzzer.
But Smart’s return in the second half elevated OSU’s game and the visitors took charge. After Smart had five points in a 7-0 run that stretched the lead to 52-41, only once in the final 12 minutes did WVU come within single digits.
The Cowboys got 13 points from Brian Williams along with 10 points, nine rebounds and four blocks from Michael Cobbins.
WVU’s Deniz Kilicli saw first-hand how tough OSU’s interior defense could be, finishing 3-of-11 from the floor with four turnovers in a seven-point performance.
“We’ve noticed the last few games that West Virginia’s been featuring Kilicli a lot,” Ford said. “So our guys heard his name repeatedly the past couple days.”
Kevin Noreen scored nine points — including an early 3-pointer that helped WVU take a 15-8 lead — and grabbed eight rebounds in the loss. He played a team-high 33 minutes.
SECOND-HALF DEJA VU
Seemingly energized by Murray’s dunk before intermission, West Virginia didn’t carry over that momentum. The Mountaineers saw Oklahoma State shoot 51 percent in the second half and were outscored 38-24.
“What’s the difference between the first half and the second half most of this season?” Huggins said. “It doesn’t seem we compete as hard.”
Eron Harris hit a 3-pointer with 5:40 left, his first points since the Texas Tech game of the previous week. He was held scoreless at K-State on Monday and started Saturday’s game 0-of-6.
The freshman wound up with six points on 1-of-7 shooting with three turnovers.
Considering Williams had scored only 15 points over six games since returning from a wrist injury, his 13 points Saturday showed Oklahoma State has another way to attack defenses.
“The strength of our team is who are you going to stop?” Ford said. “It’s pretty tough to focus on one or two guys on our team. We have some versatility. I liked the way the shots were distributed among our players.”