The downward trajectory of West Virginia’s season continues.
Despite never leading Saturday at Oklahoma, the Mountaineers had every opportunity to earn their first Big 12 victory, but hurt their cause at the free-throw line down the stretch in a 77-76 loss at the Lloyd Noble Center.
“I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said on postgame radio. “I do make them make 100 before they leave the gym. Make 100, not shoot 100. We started doing the 90 percent drill, but it’s hard this time of year to do that, because if you miss, you run and running them extra when you play so many games in a short period of time doesn’t help you any either.”
West Virginia made only half of its 16 free-throw attempts and missed four foul shots over the final 1:43.
The Mountaineers rallied to trail 70-69 when Tre Mitchell got to the free-throw line. With an opportunity to give West Virginia (10-7, 0-5) its first lead, Mitchell split two free throws.
Following an Oklahoma (11-6, 2-3) turnover, WVU guard Joe Toussaint was fouled on a drive to the basket. Toussaint missed both foul shots with 1:05 remaining, and the Sooners’ Jalen Hill wound up with an offensive rebound that led to him making two free throws with 31 to seconds to play.
Out of a timeout, Erik Stevenson attempted an ill-advised 3-pointer that was well off the mark. Hill got the rebound and added two more free throws with 15 seconds left for a 74-70 OU advantage.
“That was a forced shot,” Huggins said. “We didn’t need a forced shot. The deal was if you don’t have a good shot, penetrate and pitch it.”
Stevenson split two foul shots with 11 seconds left, and the Sooners made 3-of-4 attempts over the final 9 seconds to keep the lead at two possessions, before WVU guard Seth Wilson put in a triple at the buzzer.
Oklahoma held its largest lead at 52-43 following a short jumper from Bijan Cortes, before the Mountaineers came charging back by responding with 10 points over a stretch of 3:22 to trail by five following Mitchell’s jumper at the 8:41 mark.
A trey from Emmitt Matthews Jr. with 6:38 left enabled WVU to cut a 64-58 deficit in half, and though Hill answered with a dunk, Toussaint and Stevenson scored on consecutive possessions to bring WVU to within 66-65.
Hill’s dunk proved to be the last OU field goal, but the Sooners made 11 free throws the rest of the way to prevail.
WVU has now made 87-of-143 free-throw attempts over five Big 12 games, yet Huggins seemed fairly optimistic afterward.
“For all the doubters out there, we’re going to be a good team,” Huggins said. “Do we have to make free throws? That has to change. We couldn’t pass the ball. When we first started, we couldn’t make a free throw or pass it to our own team. That other part we fixed. Now we have to fix the free-throw shooting or make sure those guys that don’t make them aren’t on the line.”
The Mountaineers played the final 10-plus minutes with a smaller lineup after Jimmy Bell was replaced by Stevenson. For large stretches, WVU had was Toussaint, fellow point guard Kedrian Johnson, Stevenson, Matthews and Mitchell on the floor together.
Oklahoma shot 52 percent in the opening half led 18-11 on the second of two CJ Noland 3s, though WVU answered with a 6-0 spurt capped by Toussaint’s layup 1:24 after he checked in for the first time.
WVU tied the game at 20, 22 and 25, with Toussaint providing triples on the first and last of those occasions.
OU stretched its advantage back to four courtesy of Grant Sherfield’s jumper, before Toussaint scored again to send the Mountaineers into halftime trailing 31-29.
Toussaint went to the intermission leading all scorers with 10 points, and WVU could have led if not for missing all four of its free-throw attempts, including two from Mitchell following a technical foul.
“Joe’s been terrific. I can’t say enough about Joe,” Huggins said. “An absolutely great teammate as well.”
The Mountaineers shot 31 for 55 overall, including 18 for 28 in the second half. They made six more field goals on 10 more attempts than the Sooners, who made all 18 of their free throws in the second half on 23 attempts.
Sheffield made 9-of-11 free throws and led all players with 22 points, while Hill made all five of his field goals and all four free throws in a 14-point effort.
OU freshman Milos Uzan added 11 points and a game-high nine rebounds to help key the Sooners’ 29-19 rebounding advantage.
Mitchell made 7-of-8 shots and scored 16 points, while Toussaint added 14. Johnson scored 13, Matthews totaled 11 and Stevenson contributed nine in defeat.
The Mountaineers had only five turnovers.
West Virginia, which dismissed associate head coach Larry Harrison on Thursday following his 16 years with the program, has now lost 12 consecutive Big 12 road games and 20 of 25 league contests dating back to last season. The Sooners have won seven straight in their series with the Mountaineers.
“We’re getting closer. We’re not by any stretch the worst team in the league,” Huggins said. “We’ve had some things happen.”