MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia remains a team with many questions following Tuesday’s 60-53 season opening victory over Oakland.
However, something not likely to come into question is the impact of fifth-year senior Gabe Osabuohien, who left an indelible mark in what was largely a sloppy performance from the Mountaineers in front of 9,408 at the Coliseum.
In 24 minutes off the bench, Osabuohien finished with six points, nine rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one steal. He also drew five charges and perhaps most importantly, West Virginia was at its best with Osabuohien on the court, outscoring the Grizzlies by 16 points.
“He brings great energy and a great understanding of how to play,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins, who added it would be fair to say the Mountaineers wouldn’t have won without Osabuohien. “He’s not a very good shooter. His ball-handling has gotten better. His passing has gotten a little better. He brings so much enthusiasm and so much want to. He’s worked really hard since the exhibition game on not fouling.”
There was plenty Huggins didn’t like about the performance — nothing more than his team’s lack of rebounding. Oakland held a 48-33 rebounding advantage, including 20-11 on the offensive end.
“We don’t rebound the ball,” Huggins said. “We just stand around and watch and that has to get fixed in a hurry. If they want to play, they’ll learn. If they don’t want to play, they won’t.”
The Mountaineers shot below 40 percent (23 of 58) and made 4-of-21 three-pointers against Oakland’s quirky zone defense.
“That’s a different zone. [Oakland head coach Greg Kampe] does a great job with it,” Huggins said. “Everybody has a hard time adjusting to it and they cover a lot of ground.
“But if we had somebody who could score it close, he probably wouldn’t have been able to stay in it as long as he stayed in it. We just don’t score the ball close. How many times you see a guy catch the ball from a foot and air ball it? It’s not one guy — it’s a host of guys.”
The entirety of the first half was played within six points, with the Grizzlies holding the largest lead at 9-3 after reeling off nine straight points. The Mountaineers outscored Oakland 14-5 over the final 8:35 of the opening half to turn a five-point deficit into a 27-23 halftime lead. Osabuohien played just over 10 minutes during the half and the Mountaineers were plus-11 in that time.
“Just about playing 100 percent all the time,” Osabuohien said. “When you do that, good things happen.”
Osabuohien’s second-chance basket with 17:33 remaining capped a 7-0 WVU run that upped its lead to 34-25.
The Grizzlies’ deficit was still nine at 40-31 with 14:43 left after one of Jalen Moore’s two field goals, but West Virginia scored 10 of the next 12 points to hold its biggest lead of the contest, 50-33, with 11:01 left. That stretch featured five points from guard Sean McNeil, as well as Jalen Bridges’ bucket in the paint and Taz Sherman’s conventional three-point play.
But Oakland didn’t go quietly and a 13-3 run in response allowed it to close the deficit to 53-47 on Micah Parrish’s three-point play with 6:29 remaining.
“We have to be better,” Sherman said. “I don’t think we’re real good right now. When Big 12 play is here, we can’t play like this. We’re going to lose by 20.”
Sherman and Kedrian Johnson accounted for the next two field goals to make it a 10-point game, and Oakland never got closer than six down the stretch.
Sherman battled cramps in the second half, but scored 18 points to lead all players.
“The first time it was my right calf, then it was right inside my hamstring,” he said. “Tried to fight through that the best I could.”
McNeil added 11 points in the win. Outside of Osabuohien, no WVU player had more than five rebounds.
“Definitely not what we want to do in the future. Oakland shouldn’t out-rebound us in any situation,” Osabuohien said. “Their tallest guy is 6-8. Definitely going to be an emphasis the next two days on being more physical with the bigs and going after the ball. Rebound is a want. Whoever wants the ball more is going to get it.”
Moore, who averaged nearly 18 points and led the country with 8.4 assists per game last season, was held to 4 points on 2-of-16 shooting and had 13 of his team’s 25 turnovers. He was bothered throughout by Johnson and backup point guard Malik Curry.
“Keddy was really good. Malik was good,” Huggins said. “But they had a lot of help the second half of the second half.”
Marquette transfer Jamal Cain led the Grizzlies with 15 points and added seven rebounds, while Parrish finished with 10 points and a game-high 12 boards.
The Grizzlies shot 35 percent, including 3 of 23 on triples.
“We held them to 0.88 points per possession,” Kampe said. “I don’t think I’ve ever coached a team against a Power 5 team that held them to 0.88. It has to be one of the greatest defensive performances that an Oakland team has ever had. It was not a good offensive performance, but it’s the first game of the year in a Power 5 gym against one of the most physical teams we will play.”
West Virginia returns to action at 8:30 p.m. Friday when it welcomes Pitt, which lost its season opener Tuesday to The Citadel, 78-63.
“We’re going to rebound until we have some black and blue butts tomorrow,” Huggins said. “We’re going to block out and block out and block out.”