Having just returned from a neck injury, Brandon Knapper thought better of stepping into the path of Oklahoma forward Brady Manek, who finished the transition opportunity with a hard slam dunk as Knapper stepped to the side.
It was a prime example of what happened to West Virginia during Saturday’s 92-80 road loss, because WVU defenders did little else to get in the Sooners’ way.
Oklahoma (18-11, 6-10 Big 12) made 29-of-49 from the field for a 59.2 shooting percentage. In a season that has already seen a number of defensive struggles for the Mountaineers (11-18, 3-13), that’s the highest they’ve allowed.
“You leave them open and you’re like, ‘Oh, no, it’s going in.’ And it does go in,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “They shot 59 percent. They shot lay-ups, but they didn’t shoot, I didn’t think, an over amount of lay-ups. They made shots. Every time we left them open, they made a shot.”
Oklahoma guards Aaron Calixte and Jamal Bieniemy — not exactly Buddy Hield and Mookie Blaylock, as they entered the game combining for 11 points per game — ended up making a lot of shots for the Sooners.
Calixte, a graduate transfer from the University of Maine, and Bieniemy, a true freshman, combined to make seven of Oklahoma’s 10 3-pointers and made 13-of-17 shots overall.
After West Virginia took an early 17-9 lead less than six minutes into the game, the Mountaineers simply had no answer for the pair.
Both Calixte and Bieniemy scored 22 points — the first time either player broke the 20-point barrier in a game this season.
“They were great and I thought they had good focus,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “Jamal has been doing a super job all year of running the club and then he steps up and makes those threes that gave us a little bit of a margin there. I thought he was great all day, you know, defensively, offensively and making shots.
“These two have continued to work hard every day, so I was happy to see them get those results.”
The Mountaineers, who fell to 0-9 on the road, weren’t quite as happy, especially after they believed they had built some momentum following Tuesday’s triple-overtime victory against TCU.
It didn’t last long. By the end, this young bunch looked just like any other WVU on the team on the road this season. The Mountaineers came away with a 35-27 advantage on the glass and a late surge in garbage time gave WVU 11 3-pointers for the game, but little else went right for the Mountaineers.
The Sooners didn’t just roar back to tie the game after facing the early deficit, they just kept right on going.
To the point, where a 13-1 Oklahoma run over the final 5:30 of the first half led to a 42-28 halftime lead.
That quickly ballooned up to a 24-point advantage midway through the second half, as Manek (14 points, six rebounds) and teammate Kristian Doolittle (15 points, nine rebounds) got more involved and the Sooners got out in transition more.
The loss kept the Mountaineers tied with Oklahoma State for last place in the Big 12 with two games remaining.
West Virginia will host Iowa State on Wednesday, before going back on the road to face Oklahoma State, on March 9, in what will be the Mountaineers’ final opportunity to win a road game.
Jermaine Haley scored a season-high 23 points for the Mountaineers and Jordan McCabe added 18 points, but “they’re really the two who made the biggest blunders whenever the game got separated from us,” Huggins said.
“It was back and forth and then it got separated. They’re going to make mistakes. Jordan is a freshman and this is the first time Jermaine has really played at this level.”
Derek Culver, who shot 2-of-8, narrowly missed out on his eighth double-double of the season with nine points and nine rebounds and freshman forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. added eight points and a career-high 10 rebounds.
But West Virginia also had 17 turnovers and was held to 42 percent shooting (26 of 62) from the field.
“We fell apart offensively,” Matthews said. “We didn’t run our sets all the way through. In the beginning of the game, we ran our sets through and got easy buckets. If we do that for the whole game, we’ll have a better outcome than what we did tonight. We stopped running our sets and kind of went into a freelance.”
Culver ‘frustrated’ by officiating
Culver’s nine free-throw attempts Saturday marked the ninth time he has led the Mountaineers in trips to the line this season.
In 19 games, the 6-foot-10 forward has taken 131 free throws, but Huggins believes Culver should have taken a few more, but is not getting a lot of calls from referees.
“Derek got frustrated and I’d get frustrated, too, if I was him,” Huggins said. “I don’t know how it’s possible that you allow people to do the things they’ve done to him. It’s not [just] today, it was the last game and the game before that and the game before that. In an era where we’re supposed to be cleaning up post play, that was not clean, nor has it been.”
Huggins believes many of the calls that don’t get whistled in Culver’s favor is because of his size and level of athleticism.
“He’s 260 pounds and he’s the strongest guy in the gym,” Huggins said. “It takes an effort to knock him down.”
In its nine road losses, WVU has lost by an average score of 82.1 to 64.7 with three teams scoring more than 90 points.
Six teams have scored 90 or more this season against West Virginia. It happened two times all of last season.
“They did a great job of making open shots today,” Huggins said. “We gave them enough open shots to lose three or four times.”