Offensive woes continue for West Virginia in fourth straight loss to Oklahoma

(Game highlights by Teran Malone)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If West Virginia’s season was starting to slip away in advance of Wednesday’s matchup with Oklahoma, the Mountaineers failed to play like it.

Another sluggish offensive effort that included a near 7-minute scoring drought in the first half, and an inability to stage a second-half rally added up to West Virginia’s fourth straight loss, while the Sooners snapped a four-game skid with a 72-62 victory before 10,997 at the Coliseum.

“We have been above average defensively. Our offense hasn’t been good for quite a while,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “So you try to fix it. I went through and watched a whole bunch of years of our former guys and how they got open, why they got open, what we ran. We tried to put some of that in. The reality is they didn’t run that either. I’m not blaming them. It’s my fault. I’m in charge of fixing it.”

Outside of leads of 3-2 and 6-4, the Mountaineers were never in front.

The extended first-half drought came after WVU tied the game at 12 on Gabe Osabuohien’s driving basket 12:24 before halftime.

Until Osabuohien scored again at the 5:27 mark to cut Oklahoma’s lead to 20-14, the Mountaineers missed seven consecutive field-goal attempts and had four turnovers. Over that time, Oklahoma’s lead to grew to eight on two baskets from Tanner Groves, a pair of free throws from Akol Mawein and Jacob Groves’ second-chance score.

“We told them, ‘these guys run great offense,’” Huggins said. [First-year Oklahoma head coach Porter Moser] did a great job of bringing in guys who had basketball skills. We’re thinking probably way too much that we had to get some athletes in here to compete with the Baylors and Kansas and so forth and so on, who obviously lack skill. They have very skilled basketball players. They pass it and catch it. We do very little of either one.”

WVU eventually trailed 27-16, before getting two free throws from Taz Sherman, Malik Curry’s layup and Sherman’s driving bucket to close to within five. Curry’s layup, which came with 1:35 to play in the half, marked the Mountaineers’ first field goal by someone other than Osabuohien in more than 13 minutes — since Pauly Paulicap’s dunk, which tied the game at 10.

Just as the Mountaineers had closed their deficit to five, Jacob Groves beat the first-half buzzer with a triple from well beyond the arc to send the Sooners into halftime leading 30-22.

WVU went to the locker room with nine field goals, 11 turnovers, a 17-13 rebounding deficit and the Sooners shooting nearly 50 percent (13 of 27) after Tanner Groves made 6-of-7 shots.

“It was really good to see him back and confident,” Moser said. “He did a lot of good things finishing for us. He battled foul trouble all night.”

Taz Sherman’s jumper and a Jalen Bridges dunk enabled WVU to cut Oklahoma’s lead in half to start the second half, but the Mountaineers would get no closer.

After Bridges’ conventional three-point play with 14:48 remaining brought West Virginia to within 38-32, OU responded with a pivotal 8-2 run to double its lead and ensure it remained in control.

The Sooners’ free-throw shooting was a key element in preventing a WVU comeback, with Jalen Hill making two and Marvin Johnson following suit to leave OU with a 42-32 lead. After WVU’s Sean McNeil made two foul shots for his first points, Tanner Groves scored from close range and Johnson followed by doing the same, leaving the visitors with a 12-point advantage and 12:37 left.

Huggins didn’t like his team’s response adversity, something it has struggled to handle over the last two weeks.

“Growing up, my dad always talked to me about my attitude,” Huggins said. ‘I’m like man, ‘leave me alone.’ But when your attitude goes, your game goes. You can see that from the NBA down. We have guys who aren’t the same people. For that matter, I’m not sure I am.”

The Sooners would eventually build their biggest advantage at 63-46 with 6:28 to play, before WVU scored nine unanswered points in a span of 1:22.

From that point forward, OU’s lead was at least six the rest of the way, with the Mountaineers going without a field goal down the stretch after Osabuohien’s layup made it 67-59 with 2:52 left.

“I go to practice every day trying to do the best job I can trying to figure out how to fix what’s not working and how to get better,” Huggins said. “We end up in a ball all the time. We have guys running into each other and standing in the lane.”

The Sooners finished 21 of 22 on free throws, including 19 of 20 after halftime.

“You have to do that if you’re going to win on the road,” Moser said. “You have to do that to hold the lead. Those guys did a nice job stepping up to the line.”

Tanner Groves led all players with 21 points and did so on 9-of-11 shooting. Jacob Groves and Umoja Gibson added 12 points apiece in the win, with both players making half of their four field goals from 3-point range.

Oklahoma, which claimed its fifth straight win in the series, limited WVU to seven assists. In its four-game skid, the Mountaineers have only 28 total assists and no more than 10 in any game.

“It’s a whole bunch of stuff that plays into rising our assist totals,” Osabouhien said. “A couple times today, we called sets and people are in the wrong spots. It’s the little things.”

Osabouhien’s career-high 17 points led WVU in what was Huggins’ 500th game coaching the Mountaineers. Bridges followed with 12 points and a team-high six rebounds.

Sherman scored 11, but only two in the second half on 1-of-7 shooting. For the second straight game, McNeil was held to half his season average and finished with seven points, including one field goal. WVU finished 20 of 53 for less than 38 percent shooting.

“The last five, six, seven games, we’ve been playing against the same kind of defense,” Bridges said. “They’re switching everything and it takes us out of what we’re trying to do. We have to get past that and keep playing basketball. If the play doesn’t work, do something else.”

The Mountaineers look to avoid a five-game skid at 2 p.m. Saturday when they play at Arkansas as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

“We need to come together,” Bridges said. “It starts with me and [Osabuohien]. We’ve been here the longest, so we have to have leadership, talk to the new guys and instill getting back to West Virginia basketball. This right now, I don’t know what this is.”





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