WVU basketball: Mountaineers battle foul trouble, come up short at No. 11 Oklahoma State
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Had the pilot who flew the chartered jet here Friday looked out into the horizon and seen the future, he could have told West Virginia's basketball team that a day later it would get perhaps the most certain performance of Eron Harris' career.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State's All-American, Marcus Smart, would make just one basket and the Big 12's leading 3-point shooter, Phil Forte, would miss 8 of 9 3-point attempts.
And the Mountaineers would have never believed the part when they were told they'd still lose.
The 11th-ranked Cowboys defeated WVU, 81-75, to give the Mountaineers their 16th straight loss to a ranked team Saturday while Smart was 1-for-7 for four points and Forte, who'd made half of his 3-point shots this season, went 1-for-9. WVU was undone by LeBryan Nash's career-high 28 points and foul trouble that swallowed up just about everyone and saw Harris and three others foul out amid the 32 whistles and 34 free throws for the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State improved to 8-0 in the past two seasons when Smart, the Big 12's preseason player of the year, scores fewer than 10 points with a win before a crowd of 10,011 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
The Mountaineers led by seven points in the first half and trailed by seven at halftime. They opened the second half with an 11-2 run, would lead by as many as three points and trail by as many as nine in the second half and still had a chance to tie the score in the final minute.
"We kind let it get away from us at the end of the first half, but we came back and got back in the game," WVU coach Bob Huggins said. "But it's hard when we lose Eron. It's hard when we lose Eron and he gets 21 points in 21 minutes."
Harris made 6 of 7 3-point shots and keyed the rally to start the second half, but played only eight minutes after halftime and fouled out with 3:35 to play.
"I think that this game was probably the most confidence I've ever played with this season and probably ever," he said.
Juwan Staten played 40 minutes and scored 19 points. He was the only other WVU player in double figures -- and the Mountaineers needed to use 11 players in the game, including walk-ons Tyrone Hughes and Chase Connor. Terry Henderson followed his career-high 28 points Wednesday with only eight on 1-for-10 shooting. Devin Williams had six points and nine rebounds. Fellow freshman Nathan Adrian had seven points and six rebounds and the chance to tie the score late, but his 3 missed.
Harris, Williams, Adrian and Gary Browne all fouled out. Smart and Nash fouled out for Oklahoma State.
The Mountaineers (11-9, 3-4 Big 12) shot 36.8 percent in the game and were outscored 32-12 in the paint. Fifteen turnovers led to 23 points for Oklahoma State, which won two games against WVU this season by a combined seven points.
"That's frustrating, but we've got to learn from every game we lose because of the little, small details that we mess up," Harris said. "We'd be insane if we don't continue to learn from them."
Smart didn't make a shot for the first 35 minutes and only played 25 minutes. Forte ended up with 13 points, thanks to making all eight for his free throw attempts, and added five steals. Markel Brown, whose 3 with 15 seconds left beat WVU at the Coliseum earlier this month, had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Brian Williams had 10 points and six rebounds and Stevie Clark made two 3s on the way to 10 points.
Six of WVU's nine losses this season are by five, seven, nine, three, one and six points.
"Something that's definitely been our Achilles' heel this year is finishing games," Staten said. "I think it got a little rough when we started getting people fouled out and we had players who are not usually put in those situations. That hurt us a little bit.
"It's part of a growing process, but at some point we've got to get it. It has to start clicking at some point."
WVU made two baskets in the first 10 minutes of the second half, both 3s by Harris before he picked up his fourth foul and had to go to the bench with 15:08 left to play. They Mountaineers hung around by making a ton of free throws and the score was tied 54-54 in the middle of the second half when Forte made his first 3 after missing his first four attempts.
WVU had 19 points then and 13 of them were free throws after reaching the bonus in the first eight minutes of the half.
The Mountaineers had their last lead at 58-57 when Staten scored the second of his back-to-back baskets with 9:23 to go, but Nash had three straight three-point plays and then a short jumper in transition all in succession as part of an 11-2 run for a 68-60 lead. Smart's first basket put the Cowboys ahead 70-61 with 5:08 to go, their largest lead of the game.
Harris returned and made 3s on consecutive possessions to make it 70-67 with 3:48 to go, but Brown drove on Harris, scored and fouled Harris out of the game with 3:35 remaining. Adrian's 3 made it 75-70 before Williams stole the inbound and was fouled. He made two free throws and then the Mountaineers watched Brown miss two free throws with 1:05 to go to keep the score 75-72.
Adrian had a look at a 3 and missed before Forte made all six of his foul shots in the final 36 seconds to keep WVU out of reach. In his career, Forte has made 25 of 26 free throws in the final two minutes of a game.
"They're a great team that has great players," Staten said. "We came in here and played hard and fought the whole game. We got down, but we didn't hang our heads. We came back and kept on fighting. That's really all you can ask for.
"Nate's a freshman. He's played a lot of minutes this year, but he's still a freshman. That was his first time being put in this situation playing a team like that on the road. He's made big shots. He'll continue to make big shots. That's just one he missed. We're not going to place the blame on anybody."
The Mountaineers, who play Tuesday at Baylor (13-6, 1-5), did well to build a 25-18 lead with 7:45 to go in the first half as they battled foul trouble and a variety of lineups by making 10 of their first 20 shots. The whistles started to pile up, though, and before halftime seven of the 10 who played had at least two fouls. WVU couldn't guard Nash, who chewed through Huggins' post players by rebounding and attacking the basket.
The Mountaineers seemed to catch a break, though, when Smart and Harris were whistled for a double foul and Smart had to go to the bench with his second foul at the 7:24 mark, but that's where the Cowboys reversed the game. Nash's three-point play started a run that would turn their seven-point deficit into a seven-point halftime lead. He punctuated the scoring with a dunk right before the buzzer after the Mountaineers gave up a putback dunk by Markel Brown and then turned the ball over on the inbound.
The 6-foot-7 Nash had 10 of his 18 points -- he averages 13.3 -- as WVU went from leading 25-18 to trailing 42-35 at the half.
"He's been terrific all year," Huggins said. "He's probably the hardest (player to) guard in our league really. He can bounce it. If you let him catch it inside 15 feet, he's got a great chance at scoring. We knew that coming in."
WVU went the final 2:24 without a basket while being outscored 10-0. The Mountaineers also committed five turnovers for nine points as the Cowboys closed the half on a 24-10 run without Smart.
"I think when Smart plays, he dominates the ball," Staten said. "He's a great player, but he needs the ball in his hands to make the team go. When he's off the court or not getting it going, other players step up. But even without Smart, they have great players and a real matchup problem with Nash."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu.