MORGANTOWN -- So many times this season and last, West Virginia had proven the ability to rally from deficits to pick up big wins.
On Tuesday night at the Coliseum, the Mountaineers finally had to prove they could salt away a lead as well.
The Mountaineers did just that with sophomore Jalen Bridges matching a career high with 22 points and senior Gabe Osabuohien narrowly missing a double-double with 12 points and eight rebounds as WVU seized control early and turned back an Oklahoma State run late in securing a 70-60 victory. A crowd of 10,352 attended the game.
With the win, West Virginia moved to 13-2 overall and 2-1 in Big 12 Conference play with three games against ranked opponents looming next.
The Mountaineer defense was certainly formidable on Tuesday, and while their own offense struggled at times as well, managing just 37.3% shooting, WVU cashed in 21 out of 22 times at the free-throw line compared to just 9 for 15 for the Cowboys.
Surprisingly, Osabuohien had a part of that as well, hitting all four of his attempts after entering the game shooting a dreadful 26.7% (8 for 30) from the charity stripe on the season.
“I think we had the right guys at the line and some of our guys like [forward] Pauly [Paulicap] have really worked on them,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “Gabe made some. It makes a huge difference when Gabe actually makes some.”
Osabuohien admitted the early success at the line helped spark his night overall.
“Just trying to be aggressive,” Osabuohien said. “They had a really small lineup so I knew I could attack and have an easy shot over a little guard down.
“I was just playing basketball. Made my free throws. Once you see the ball go in a couple times it makes stuff easier.”
WVU led by 11 at the halftime break and grew its lead to as many as 16 in the second half before the Cowboys (8-6, 1-2) finally made their run, whittling the margin all the way down to seven with a 9-0 spurt to make the score 53-46 with 8:01 remaining.
That run came with Osabuohien on the bench, but upon his reinsertion into the lineup, West Virginia immediately responded with an 11-1 surge that put the game out of reach. Bridges had eight points as part of that run, most of which came in transition as the Mountaineers worked through the Cowboys’ full-court press.
Bridges missed a couple of early shots from the outside but after being on the receiving end of a couple of crisp passes from senior guard Taz Sherman, both of which led to buckets, he grew more and more comfortable attacking the rim. By game’s end, Bridges was 10 for 10 at the free-throw line.
“I was just letting the game come to me instead of hunting shots,” Bridges said. “I’ve been trying to play more aggressive and there’s a right way to do that and a wrong way to do that, and I saw I wasn’t making shots, so I started trying to get everything at the rim.
“Just having a player [Sherman] that you can be that synced up with. All it takes is one second of eye contact. He looks that way and I go and he throws the ball and it’s an easy layup, easy dunk. It’s great to play with guys like that.”
Meanwhile, WVU was able to rely on its defense all night. Oklahoma State shot just 39.7% from the floor (23 for 58) and turned the ball over 17 times. West Virginia recorded 12 steals, led by Sherman with four. Sherman also finished with 13 points and five assists with Sean McNeil chipping in 12 points.
A layup at the 14:22 mark from Malik Curry kick-started a 12-2 burst that turned a 10-6 deficit into an 18-12 lead for the Mountaineers. That advantage would swell to as many as 14 after five straight Bridges points with 3:12 left in the half.
Oklahoma State's Keylan Boone hit a 3-pointer to turn the tide and it was followed by a basket for Bryce Williams, but a pair of free throws from Paulicap were the final points of the half as the Mountaineers led 34-23 at the break.
Neither team shot it well in the opening 20 minutes with the Cowboys going 10 for 31 (32.3%) from the floor and WVU shooting 12 for 33 (36.4%). But the Mountaineers were 7 for 7 from the free-throw line compared to 1 for 2 for Oklahoma State, and four Cowboys had two fouls as the teams went into their locker rooms.
Williams led Oklahoma State with 12 points with Isaac Likekele adding 11.