|Field Goal %||42.0||42.4|
|Three Point %||38.1||31.8|
|Free Throw %||72.4||66.7|
The West Virginia Mountaineers got back in the win column Saturday afternoon, beating the Oklahoma Sooners 79-71 inside the WVU Coliseum. The Mountaineers came into the game 1-7 in Big 12 play and on a three-game losing streak. Meanwhile, a 15-6 OU team was looking to keep their post-season hopes alive, despite a 3-5 conference record.
The Mountaineers we’re winning on the offensive glass early but couldn’t connect on the put-backs, going 4-12 from the field, and was trailing 15-10 after Aaron Calixte buried a three at the 13:33 mark in the first half.
There were five ties and 11 lead changes until Brandon Knapper pulled up strong in the paint – scored the bucket and was fouled, giving the Mountaineers a one-point lead 27-26 with just over three minutes to play in the half. WVU finished the half on an 8-0 and took a seven-point lead into halftime 33-26.
Oklahoma quickly got back within a possession in the opening minutes of the second half after a WVU turnover and back-to-back offensive rebounds for a Jamal Bieniemy three to cut the WVU deficit to two.
A dunk by Jermaine Haley on a nice pass from Esa Ahmad then a Brandon Knapper three for 16 of his dominating second half points put the Mountaineers back up seven.
West Virginia was up nine midway through the second half, until the Sooners went on a 10-2 run in a matter of three minutes to cut the Mountaineer lead to one. Typically, this is where WVU would go on a long scoring drought and fall behind a couple of possessions but not on this day.
Derek Culver hit consecutive buckets to give the Mountaineers a five-point cushion, but Brady Manek drilled his fourth three of the day to get the Sooners back within two with just over two minutes left in the game and West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins to a 30-second timeout to set up his offense.
Knapper responded on an open three from the wing and then 7-8 from the free throw line in the final minute to close the game out with an eight-point win.
Redshirt freshman and South Charleston, WV native Brandon Knapper’s 25 points set a new career high.
“I think we’ve all been waiting on it.” Said Huggins. “His problem is ball security. He’s thrown the ball everywhere. He did a good job today under some tough circumstances. He got double-teamed at the end and did a good job stepping to the double-team like he was supposed to. He played really well.”
Huggins continued discussing Knappers confidence. “He doesn’t seem to have a confidence problem shooting the ball. I think it’s handling the ball. You throw a guy out there and say, ‘Go run the team.’ That’s a pretty good responsibility.
“Even though he was here last year, he played against JC (Jevon Carter) and Dax (Daxter Miles Jr) more than anything.” Continued Huggs. “JC told me, he said, ‘Knap’s going to have a great year fo us. He’s going to have a great year.’ Then, when he threw it all over the place, I called JC and said, ‘Remind me never to hire you as an assistant coach.”
West Virginia relied on their front line, packing the paint working the ball inside from the high post and crashed the offensive boards getting 27 second chance points on 18 offensive rebounds – outrebounding the Sooners by 16.
“Esa (Ahmad) was terrific. Esa was terrific. Wes (Harris) had a great spurt for us when we were struggling a little bit. You almost expect it from Derek (Culver) anymore.” Boasted Huggins.
After a combined 43 turnovers the last two games, the Mountaineers took better care of the ball, turning the ball over only 12 times on the day. Huggins was proud of his team’s effort.
“I though our strength was our front line, without a question. I think we’re playing harder again.” Explained Huggs. “I told them before the game, we can’t just throw the ball to them. If we limit our turnovers, and if we play hard – not three of us play hard and two guys go through the motions – but if everybody on the floor will play hard, we can beat just about anybody in this league. I think we can beat anybody in this league if we play hard. We played awfully hard Kansas game. We played hard in the game. Now, we have to start to play hard every game.”
West Virginia has a quick turnaround as they travel to Lubbock, TX Sunday to take on Texas Tech on Monday night at 9:00 pm on ESPN.