MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Winning back-to-back games revived the Big 12 title hopes for No. 19 West Virginia, which received some help from Oklahoma State too.
The Cowboys, having pulled off a stunning upset at league-leading Kansas last Saturday, carry similar hopes into the WVU Coliseum a week later.
“That’s what this league is. It’s a hard league,” said Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins. “They’re good. They’re talented. I think we’ll see a team that’s hungry.”
Oklahoma State (14-10, 4-7) sports the Big 12’s worst RPI at 107 yet held second-half leads in road games vs. Texas Tech, Arkansas and Kansas State. It also led West Virginia by seven points with 13 minutes left in Stillwater before falling 85-79 on Dec. 29.
The rematch finds the Mountaineers (18-6, 7-4) only a game behind No. 7 Texas Tech and No. 10 Kansas in the league standings. Their timely shots have begun falling, their defensive intensity has escalated, and their mojo has returned as evidenced by a 38-point drubbing of K-State and Monday’s 75-73 win at No. 17 Oklahoma.
These victories transpired despite Bob Cousy Award finalist Jevon Carter slumping through 7-of-25 shooting and missing all eight of his 3-point tries. Carter’s contributions remained steady in other areas with eight steals and 19 assists.
“He’s trying to be a point guard,” Huggins said. “We need him to score and he knows we need hm to score, but we also need him to facilitate for other people. He’s a great kid. He’ll do anything you ask him to do.”
Carter still tops the Mountaineers in scoring at 16.6 per game, though guard Daxter Miles (12.1), center Sagana Knoate (10.7) and forwards Lamont West (10.8) and Esa Ahmad (10.0) provide ample support.
While West Virginia has won six of the last seven in the Oklahoma State series, the outlier was an upset loss in Morgantown last season. Cowboys guard Jeffrey Carroll scored 20 points that day and remains the team’s leading scorer at 15.5 per game.
“We’re fully capable, but it’s a brand new team,” he said.
First-year head coach Mike Boynton, after inheriting a team picked last in the league, has it on pace for an NIT bid. The shocking win at Phog Allen Fieldhouse temporarily had fans entertaining grander aspirations until Oklahoma State stumbled at home against Baylor 67-56.
“It was a great opportunity for us and we missed it,” Boynton said after OSU endured a nearly 10-minute scoreless stretch.
“The margin for error isn’t a great one. This team doesn’t have the ability to overcome a long stretch without scoring.”
Point guard Kendall Smith (11.6 points, 3.0 assists), a graduate transfer who previously played at UNLV and Cal State Northridge, is scoring nearly 17 points per game over his last five.
“Smith is playing really well,” Huggins said, “much better than when we played them the first time.”
Oklahoma State (14-10, 4-7) at No. 19 West Virginia (18-6, 7-4)
Tipoff: Saturday, noon in Morgantown, W.Va. (ESPN)
The skinny: The matchup features the Big 12’s top two foul-shooting teams, but two of the worst from 3-point range. … Cowboys center Mitchell Solomon has been called for 82 fouls, by far the most in the conference. … The Mountaineers forced 21 turnovers in the first meeting, eight more than OSU’s season average. … OSU sophomore forward Cam McGriff has emerged of late, highlights by his 20 points, nine boards and three steals at Kansas.
Scouting WVU: West Virginia forces opponents into turnovers on 24.7 percent of their possessions, second-best in the country. … Beetle Bolden (9.8 points) is 20-of-35 from 3 in his last six games. … While Jevon Carter has been whistled for 71 fouls this season, second-most in the Big 12, that’s a product of playing time. His 3.5 fouls per 40 minutes are only 10th-most on his own team.
RPIs: Oklahoma State 107, West Virginia 25
Prediction: West Virginia 81-74