OSU basketball: No. 17 West Virginia rallies past Cowboys
West Virginia guard Jermaine Haley caught the inbound pass in the corner, spun and hurled a 3-pointer that appeared to be more of a prayer than a certainty.
Except, it rolled in as time expired on the first half.
An eight-point deficit surprisingly became five.
That was the first sign Oklahoma State’s charmed first half on the road was a mirage.
The 17th-ranked Mountaineers had yet to turn up their highly regarded defensive intensity. When they did, the game turned sour for the Cowboys.
West Virginia shook off an early hot start from OSU and dominated the second half, sending the Cowboys to a disheartening 65-47 loss Tuesday night in Morgantown, West Virginia.
“We just didn’t have the right focus coming out of the locker room, for whatever reason,” OSU coach Mike Boynton said on the radio. “Twenty minutes doesn’t make a game. We played against a really, really good team on the road that was going to respond. They did and then we didn’t.”
OSU (13-13, 3-10 Big 12) had won three of four games, playing its best basketball since winning seven straight games in November.
West Virginia (19-7, 7-6) had lost three straight games. Legendary coach Bob Huggins even changed the starting lineup, going with a smaller look. But after that led to OSU leading by 10, he opened the second half with a bigger lineup featuring three players 6-feet-7 or taller.
The Mountaineers then methodically overpowered the Cowboys. OSU’s defense wore down and the offense fell apart.
OSU did not score for nearly 6 minutes. By the 7:48 mark, OSU had made just three field goals and trailed 48-39. The Cowboys finished the second half making just 5 of 30 field goals, a dismal 16.7 percent.
“We went in there with the wrong focus,” OSU senior Cam McGriff said. “As a team, we didn’t really play as aggressively as we did the first half. And then we let (the lead) dwindle down.
“So, that’s really on us to continue to force the issue on the other team and keep the foot on their throats. We didn’t do that.”
This all came after the Cowboys started on fire behind McGriff and center Yor Anei, who combined for 21 points. OSU shot 61.9 percent in the first half.
But OSU had missed some layups and committed unforced turnovers. The Cowboys finished the game making just 6 of 18 layups or dunks.
“You gotta make those plays on the road against really good teams, otherwise you look back and think, ‘Maybe we should be up 12 instead of six or five,’” Boynton said, “and that certainly showed up tonight.”
McGriff finished with a game-high 19 points. Anei finished with eight points, but did not score in the second half as he dealt with foul trouble.
The Mountaineers’ big duo of Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver in turn dominated. They finished the game with a combined 25 rebounds, 16 in the second half.
That was the final sign that things were going bad for OSU heading into a big Bedlam matchup Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“This is a resilient team that we have here,” McGriff said. “We’re going to look at this as a learning experience and try to come back better.”