MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Bob Huggins inserted two new starters into West Virginia’s lineup against Oklahoma State, but Tuesday night’s game was more about how the Mountaineers finished.
No. 17 West Virginia dominated the second half, holding the Cowboys (13-13, 3-10 Big 12) to 14 points for a 65-47 win that snapped a three-game losing streak.
The final play of the first half ended up setting the tone for the 20 minutes that followed.
Jermaine Haley drained a three from the corner at the buzzer, with the ball making a full rotation around the rim before popping out, bouncing off the back iron and rolling back through the net.
“I thought it would go straight in. I didn’t think it was going to roll in like that,” Haley said. “The basketball gods were with me. Put the ball in the hoop.”
The miraculous make capped off an unlikely trip down the floor.
The Mountaineers got the ball underneath their own hoop with 4 seconds left. Oklahoma State’s defense deflected it out of bounds three times on the ensuing possession, with West Virginia’s final inbounds play coming in front of the Cowboys’ bench with 1 second remaining.
“I could lie and say that was something we worked on,” Huggins said. “I said, ‘Throw the damn thing in.'”
West Virginia still trailed 33-28 after Haley’s buzzer-beater, but the tone of the game changed. After Oklahoma State shot 62 percent from the field in the first half, just staying within striking distance felt like an accomplishment.
“It was huge,” said fellow guard Miles McBride. “He loves those type of threes. He’ll pass up a wide-open three for a hand-in-the-face fadeaway kicking the leg out yelling ‘Kobe!’
“He’s our leader. We know we can trust him to take shots like that.”
The Mountaineers blew out of the gates after halftime, opening with a 20-4 run that left the Cowboys looked dazed and confused. Oklahoma State was just 17 percent from the field (5 of 30) in the second half.
“I thought we did a better job of covering them up,” Huggins said. “They’re really good shooters, and we were giving them step-in shots, and we were giving them a lot of pitch stuff off of penetration. We didn’t do a very good job [in the first half].”
Huggins’ new starting lineup experiment netted mixed results.
The Mountaineers started small, swapping out power forward Derek Culver for a three-guard look featuring Taz Sherman, Miles McBride and Emmitt Matthews. Huggins tweaked the look at halftime, inserting Culver for Matthews and moving Haley from forward to guard.
“We started small and that probably wasn’t the right thing to do in hindsight,” Huggins said. “But we were struggling so bad to score while playing that bigger lineup.
“But I thought the big lineup in the second half really saved us. Derek and Oscar and Gabe [Osabuohien] all were good defensively. Moving Jermaine to out guarding a guard, he did a great job of shutting off their penetration.”
“They went back to a bigger lineup because we were going inside [in the first half],” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton. “I thought they were much more active. A lot of credit goes to their defense.”
McBride rebounded from a 1-for-6 start from the field, tying Sean McNeil with a team-high 11 points. Haley and Sherman finished with nine apiece.
Neither Culver nor Oscar Tshiebwe reached double figures in scoring, but both of them did so in rebounds. Tshiebwe hauled in 15 boards and Culver added 10. West Virginia outrebounded Oklahoma State 42-29.
By the numbers
Oklahoma State forward Cameron McGriff led all scorers with 17 points, 13 of which came in the first half. McGriff was 6 of 7 from the field in the first half and 2 of 7 in the second… Huggins tied North Carolina legend Dean Smith for sixth on the NCAA’s all-time wins list with 879.
The Mountaineers hit the road for back-to-back games, beginning with Saturday’s visit to TCU. The Horned Frogs (14-11, 5-7) recently snapped a six-game losing streak.