MORGANTOWN — Though only a freshman, Terry Henderson fully comprehended the opportunity West Virginia had wasted.
“First Big 12 game, home opener, packed crowd — what more could you ask for?” he said in a rhetorical postgame moment that perfectly summarized the setting for Saturday’s 67-57 loss to Oklahoma.
“I really thought we were going to pull it out,” mused Henderson, whose 21 points were nearly half his team’s output when WVU led 43-31 with 18 minutes to play. That’s when the guard’s splendid day — and West Virginia’s hopes of a season-changing victory — suddenly fizzled.
Zero points for Henderson the rest of the way and zero teammates picking up the slack. Cue the Oklahoma comeback.
After the Sooners outscored West Virginia 16-2 in the final 5:25, Henderson didn’t want to blame his shooting touch for turning cold or WVU’s struggling to rebound after switching to a zone defense. For Henderson, there was a simpler explanation behind OU’s end surge: “They wanted it more than we did.”
For a majority of Saturday’s game, played before a season-high crowd of 12,112 at the Coliseum, the Mountaineers (7-6, 0-1 Big 12) performed like a team that could make shots and make good on Bob Huggins’ design for a midseason turnaround. Yet once the Sooners (10-3, 1-0) finally started rolling, WVU lacked the resolve to stop them.
The Sooners, just as they had done during a November nonconference meeting in Orlando, dominated the closing minutes. And in full-on acquiesce mode was West Virginia, having squandered a chance to beat a top-40 RPI team.
“I really feel like one got away today,” said WVU point guard Juwan Staten, who provided 10 points and seven assists in 36 minutes. “We had the game won. We were doing everything we needed to do.
“It just came down to about the last six minutes, where we kind of collapsed on defense — let them get second-chance opportunities, let their guards penetrate too much— and they stole the game from us.”
Romero Osby led Oklahoma with 21 points and nine rebounds, 14 points and seven boards coming in the second half.
West Virginia, which sank nine 3-pointers in the first half after averaging less than four per game, returned to its norm in the second half, going 7-of-29 (24.1 percent). The rim really tightened up during the final 8:50, when the Mountaineers made only 1-of-10 shots.
“I really feel like one got away today. We had the game won. We were doing everything we needed to do.” — WVU point guard Juwan Staten
The home team was running on fumes when Jabarie Hinds’ 3-pointer staked WVU to a 55-51 lead at the 5:44 mark. That’s when Steven Pledger, one of the top shooters in Sooners history, shook free for a 3-point answer, trimming the deficit to 55-54 and driving Huggins irate.
“The scouting report for seven days was don’t leave (Pledger),” the coach lamented. “When you spend seven days saying you can’t leave Steven Pledger, you can’t leave the guy, and we run and leave him, what is that? I don’t know.”
For Huggins, the next possession must have been even more maddening.
Staten drove the lane and dished to Aaric Murray for what looked like a sure basket. But on the way up, Murray lost the handle and the ball floated harmlessly over the rim, a one-foot airball from a 6-foot-10 center. Moments later, after Pledger missed another open 3-point try, Oklahoma’s 6-foot-3 freshman guard Buddy Heild knifed into the lane for the rebound and putback.
Though the Sooners’ 40-39 overall edge in rebounding didn’t seem so monumental, Oklahoma owned the boards in crunch time, grabbing eight of the last 10.
“We got out-toughed,” Huggins said. “I have a hard time with that honestly, because my teams have always out-rebounded people, we’ve always out-toughed people.”
“We want to reach for it and they want to go fetch it.”
Sooners coach Lon Kruger called the comeback a big step for his team, “especially in this building” where the Mountaineers were 5-0 this season.
“Anytime you play a good West Virginia club at their place and you are down 12 early in the second half, it is a tough challenge,” Kruger said. “Our guys did a pretty good job of getting some stops there at pretty critical stages.”
West Virginia continues to get minimal offense from its big men.
Murray sank two 3-pointers and scored eight points in the first 6:10, but was shut out the rest of the day on four missed shots. He had only four rebounds in 24 minutes.
Deniz Kilicli scored three points on 1-of-4 shooting, though he had six boards in 19 minutes.
WVU’s other forwards — Dominque Rutledge, Keaton Miles and Kevin Noreen — also failed to score, though Noreen had five rebounds and Rutledge four.
HENDERSON GETS HOT
With Oklahoma’s defense pinching into the lane to cut off penetration, Henderson sank 5-of-7 from 3-point range in the first half. Three time he found a void in the right corner,
“Terry Henderson is a terrific shooter, and we knew that,” Kruger said. “We were a little concerned about the penetration, but we went too far in terms of our help. They did a good job of driving and kicking, and Henderson did a good job of making shots.”
In the second half, against more man defense, he was 1-of-2 from 3-point range and 1-of-5 overall.
Said Huggins of the defensive emphasis OU placed on Henderson in the second half: “They paid a lot more attention to him. They were a lot closer. They were jumping at him. Might have bumped him a little bit to get him off balance.”
Henderson felt he “was getting open looks even when they went to playing man.” Yet despite finishing two points shy of the career-high 23 he scored in an 81-66 loss to Michigan, the freshman took small solace in his stats.
“I’m a winner and I’m used to winning,” he said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to win, whether it’s make shots or do other things.”