Sophomore guard Isaac Likekele had been a catalyst for much of the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team’s early success this season, so stopping him was high on West Virginia’s priority list for Monday’s game against the Cowboys.
That, of course, is easier said than done. Likekele is not your prototypical college point guard, listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds — which presents a matchup problem for many teams.
It was certainly an issue for West Virginia last season in Morgantown, as the then-freshman scored 23 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Cowboys to an 85-77 win. Monday, however, was different. WVU had an answer for Likekele in the form of senior Jermaine Haley.
Haley, listed at 6-foot-7, is no stranger to the point guard position and helped the Mountaineers hold Likekele to just five points on two made field goals — seven points below his season average prior to Monday’s 55-41 Mountaineer win.
“We put Jermaine on him because Jermaine is 6-7 and longer with pretty good feet,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said.
“[Haley] played point for us last year. He played the majority of the year at point, so he knows what he’s doing,”
Haley has shown the ability to play almost every position for the Mountaineers and made the move to point in the first half Monday as WVU (12-2, 2-2 Big 12) was struggling to score points, although he also struggled to score with just three points on a 1-of-7 shooting night. Both sophomore Jordan McCabe and Miles “Deuce” McBride — who split the majority of West Virginia’s point guard minutes — checked back into the game later at shooting guard while Haley ran the point.
“Just having a vet like [Haley] who has been playing college ball for four or five years, he’s able to come in and show us how to put a guy on his shoulder and direct the team,” McBride said.
Sophomore guard Brandon Knapper, a former South Charleston High standout who scored eight points in Monday’s win, agreed.
“[Jermaine] is a 6-8 guard,” Knapper said. “There are not a lot of 6-8 guards out there. He can see the whole floor and he can do a lot.”
‘A BAD BASKETBALL GAME’
Monday’s win marked the first time the Mountaineers had won on the road in Big 12 play since late in the 2017-18 season, and Oklahoma State’s 41 points were the fewest allowed by a WVU team since allowing 40 against Massachusetts on Deb. 20, 1986.
Still, West Virginia’s win was not one that was always easy to watch.
“That was a bad basketball game,” Huggins said during his postgame radio interview. “We turn it over 20 times. They turn it over 19 times. Couldn’t make a shot, either team.”
Turnovers have been an issue for the Mountaineers in the last two games. In addition to the 20 turnovers by WVU on Monday, West Virginia had 16 in last week’s loss at No. 3. Kansas.
“We persevered,” Huggins said. “We didn’t play well. We had a hard time scoring. It wasn’t like we didn’t have opportunities. We were kind of out of it I think. We had a little bit of a hangover from Saturday. [Oklahoma State] didn’t play well either. I think both teams, playing Saturday and then jumping on a plane and getting back here [was bad for both teams].”
Both teams were in a generous mood, so steals were also up with Oklahoma State accounting for 10 and WVU credited with nine.
“I think our defense stepped up and got stops when we needed stops and made defensive plays when we needed to,” McBride said. “I think we can still make large strides in our defensive schemes and game plans.
“The coaches know what they’re doing. They’ve had the nation’s best defense for years. It’s our job to execute what they tell us to do. So I still think we can still go a long way with that.”
GOOD LOOKS FROM LONG RANGE?
West Virginia was better from distance than Oklahoma State in Monday’s win, but the Mountaineers still weren’t great.
The Cowboys hit just 1 of 20 3-point attempts while WVU made 6 of its 24 shots from beyond the arc. OSU’s defense, however, was not especially tight on more than a few of WVU’s shot attempts.
“I told the guys in the locker room, the NCAA tournament is about making open shots because you don’t get many,” Huggins said. “When you get them, you need to make it.”
Likewise, Huggins said Okie State’s poor 3-point shooting on Monday was due in large part to fortunate misses as opposed to what WVU’s perimeter defense was doing.
“Thirty-nine turnovers,” Huggins said. “It was neither one of our better games.