Columns/Opinion, Men's Basketball, WVU Sports

COLUMN: West Virginia didn’t give this game away; Oklahoma State won it with its defense in the second half

MORGANTOWN — I’ll go to my grave believing that Isaac Likekele fouled Taz Sherman when Sherman launched that 3-pointer inside the T-Mobile Center with 6.7 seconds remaining on Thursday.

“I’m not going to say too much about the officiating,” Sherman said following West Virginia’s 72-69 loss against Oklahoma State in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament.

Good for Sherman.

That’s a great on-the-record thing to say, but it also lets you know what he’s thinking behind the scenes.

Now, does that non-call cost the Mountaineers the game?

Hard to say, because if that shot had gone in rather than coming up short in the hands of teammate Derek Culver, the game is simply going to overtime. WVU could have just as easily won or lost the game, too, in the extra period.

In my mind, Oklahoma State’s defense was the difference in the game.

The Cowboys stayed mostly in zone, and according to Sherman and WVU head coach Bob Huggins, Oklahoma State didn’t really make any big second-half adjustments.

“I don’t think they did anything, but we threw them the ball,” Huggins said. “We gave them second and third shots. They’re a good team. They’ve got good players. You let them get three cracks at it inside the foul line, they’re probably going to make one of them.”

Yet, the stats tell a little different story.

WVU was held to 38% percent shooting in the second half.

The Mountaineers went a stretch of 4:10 without scoring a basket, and that came just after WVU had taken a 49-41 lead with 12:43 remaining.

Not all of that came simply because West Virginia got sloppy — “Relaxed,” was the word Huggins used — and simply couldn’t get the ball into the basket.

Some of that has to be credited to Oklahoma State being more active and playing harder on the defensive end.

WVU literally got nothing easy in the second half.

There were no run-out dunks, very little transition opportunities, and even when Sherman or Sean McNeil would hit a shot from the outside, it generally came by working hard just to create the shot, and there usually was an OSU defender with a hand up when it happened.

It can be said, through a WVU-branded lens, that the Mountaineers didn’t make enough shots.

You could also add that Oklahoma State’s four steals in the second half that all led to points the other way came because WVU’s guards threw lazy passes.

But, you’ve got to be in the right place to pick those passes off.

You’ve got to anticipate and then have the awareness to make the play. That’s just as much good defense as it is bad offense.

And then to hold a team that can score with the best of them to just 33 points in the second half, that’s just good defense, too.

“We were forced into tough shots,” WVU point guard Deuce McBride said. “They started applying a little bit more pressure. Rebounding was probably the story.”

Oh, the rebounds.

Oklahoma State came up with 45-32 edge on the glass.

Yes, Culver was playing with a terrible cold, so he wasn’t his normal self on the glass, even though he still had nine boards.

Rebounding is about want and will, and the Cowboys came up with more of that in the second half.

Nine offensive rebounds in the second half added up to nine second-chance points for the Cowboys.

Oklahoma State had 25 rebounds in the second half, while the Mountaineers only had 16.

There are four other guys on the floor for WVU not named Derek Culver, and none of them came up with a crucial rebound when the Mountaineers absolutely needed one.

“They got rebounds and finished them and we didn’t,” McBride continued. “That’s something we have to clean up.”

Even on the final possession, Likekele probably fouled Sherman, but he fought through some pretty good screens just to stay step-for-step with Sherman in the first place.

Once Culver picked up the blocked shot and kicked it out to McNeil, it looked like McNeil was wide open.

“They had a guy come from out of nowhere,” Huggins said.

That guy was Bryce Williams and his presence made McNeil hesitate just enough that the clock ran out before McNeil could take that 3-pointer.

The Mountaineers made plenty of mistakes and Culver was running only on fumes and guts.

That all made a difference, but sometimes you’ve got to take a look at the other team, too, and hand out a little credit.

The Cowboys’ effort was definitely worthy of praise on Thursday.

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