STILLWATER, Okla. — Though they entered as 14-point underdogs, the West Virginia Mountaineers found themselves tied with No. 11 Oklahoma State on five occasions during the second half.
And in the final 44 seconds West Virginia nearly squared it a sixth time, though Nathan Adrian’s 3-pointer didn’t fall.
Given that WVU shot well below its team average, suffered a negative turnover margin for only the third time this season and—oh, yeah—had four players foul out, Saturday’s 81-75 loss darn near came with a feel-good underlining. If only the Mountaineers weren’t so desperate a breakthrough victory.
“There were just a couple key moments that we didn’t really execute, and that cost us,” said Juwan Staten.
“Oklahoma State is a great team, they have great players. We came in here and we played hard. We fought the whole game. We got down, we didn’t hang our heads, and we kept fighting. That’s all you can ask for.”
Staten wasn’t technically on the floor for the full 40 minutes (he rested for a whole 10 seconds during the first half), but he probably felt as though he had battled 400 minutes given the bruising collisions he endured trying to stand up to Oklahoma State counterpart Marcus Smart, who plays point guard with a linebacker physique.
“When Smart plays, he dominates the ball,” Staten said. “He is a great player, and he needs the ball in his hands. He makes the team go.”
With Staten outscoring Smart 19-4, West Virginia could have seized the upset opportunity and ended Oklahoma State’s 12-game home win streak. Instead, OSU’s role players out-performed their season metrics, highlighted by 6-foot-7 forward Le’Bryan Nash ringing up 29 points with a flurry of slick moves around the basket.
“Even though Smart is a great player, I think teams have a real matchup problem in Nash,” Staten said. “Whenever he gets the ball and gets going, it’s hard to stop because he can put the ball on the floor like a guard. He’s a power forward in size, but he can shoot the mid-range, he can do a lot of things.”
Other facets that added up to a narrow loss:
• WVU came in shooting almost 46 percent from the floor but made only 36 percent Saturday.
• The Mountaineers came in plus-four in turnover margin, yet committed 15 to OSU’s 12.
• And the biggie: 32 team fouls that represented not only the most of the Huggins era (equaling the Marshall game of Jan. 9, 2011) but the most for a West Virginia team this century.
Eighteen of those fouls were assessed in the first half, forcing Huggins to play walk-on Tyrone Hughes for four minutes. By game’s end—when Eron Harris, Gary Browne, Nate Adrian and Devin Williams had beeb DQ’d—WVU had only five scholarship players available.
“It got a little rough when we started getting people fouled out, because we had to call on players that aren’t usually put in those situations,” Staten said.