STILLWATER, Okla. — Behind a 3-point flurry from sixth man Phil Forte, Oklahoma State ran away from West Virginia 80-66 on Saturday.
Forte, sporting the No. 13 jersey for the first time after the team was reminded that No. 10 had been retired, scored a career-high 26 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including 6-of-11 from 3-point range.
The 5-foot-11 freshman’s hot shooting helped the Cowboys close the first half on a 19-3 run to lead West Virginia 30-27.
West Virginia (9-10, 2-4 Big 12) seemingly embraced its first trip to Gallagher-Iba Arena by leading 24-11 after Juwan Staten scored a layup off an inbounds pass with six minutes left in the half. Cowboys coach Travis Ford bolted off the bench and called timeout almost as the ball dropped through the net, and Oklahoma State came out of the break sporting more fire and a zone defense.
That’s when Forte began his tear. Most of those shots were uncontested, including one he sank from the corner in transition to break a 27-all tie.
“It’s obvious — they made shots and we didn’t,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “We helped them by leaving them open to get them started. It’s a lot easier to make one after you’ve made a couple. We helped off the wrong people at the wrong times.”
Watching Forte make 3-pointers against minimal pressure wasn’t just confounding to Huggins. Two players sounded peeved about WVU’s defensive lapses.
Said forward Deniz Kilicli: “We don’t come help. It’s the only thing (Forte) can do, is get the ball and shoot it. He’s not going to create anything dribbling the ball. He’s not going to play pick-and-rolls or anything. He’s just going to come shoot the ball.”
And this from guard Eron Harris: “A few times the ball got turned loose and the guy on (Forte) left, and that left him open. Other times he shouldn’t have gotten any shots off. We just did dumb stuff. All he does is shoot.”
Markel Brown also had a season-high with 24 points for the Cowboys, including 4-of-6 shooting on 3s. Brown and Forte had combined for a 3-of-19 performance in Monday’s loss at Baylor.
Ironically, Oklahoma State (13-5, 3-3) won big despite seven turnovers from point guard Marcus Smart. The freshman All-American candidate had four assists, three steals and scored 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
“We were very hesitant early in the game,” said OSU’s Ford. “We didn’t handle the pressure early and we got caught chasing them on defense rather than guarding them. Once we started adjusting to their pressure, we were able to score a few more points.
“Then we jumped into a zone, and that helped us on both ends of the court. There were some long rebounds, and we were able to convert those into some open-court fast breaks to open the game up a little bit. We just got off to a slow start.”
Harris led West Virginia with 17 points, including 5-of-8 on 3s. Kilicli contributed 12 points, five rebounds, two blocks and two assists before fouling out with 6:35 left. Aaric Murray came off the bench for a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Oklahoma State’s Philip Jurick added eight points, 12 rebounds, two blocks and three assists.
Forte’s jersey change was an odd storyline. OSU’s No. 10 was retired two years ago in memory of the 10 players, coaches and administrators killed in a 2001 plane crash. Coincidentally, Sunday is the anniversary of that tragedy, prompting a “Remember The 10” theme.
“I can’t complain — 13 worked well today,” said Forte. “I’m going to stay with that number. I understand the circumstance. It’s out of my control, and it’s for a good reason.”