By Michael Kinney
NORMAN, Okla. – Going on the road in the Big 12 is a grind. No matter what arena teams roll into , they know more often than not the game is going to be a battle that comes down to the final possessions.
That was the case for the 19th ranked Mountaineers Monday when they traveled to No. 17 Oklahoma for a rematch with the Sooners. It took a mad defensive scramble in the final seconds for WVU to pull out the 75-73 victory at Lloyd Noble Center.
After losing three straight, the Mountaineers (18-6, 7-4 Big 12) have now won back to back games for the first time since Jan. 9.
For the Sooners, it was their fifth defeat in last seven games as they continue to struggle in the final minutes of close games.
Esa Ahmad hit two free throws to give WVU a 67-63 advantage with 4:51 left in the game. OU’s Trae Young knocked down two free throws to cut the lead back down to three.
Ahmad came right back with a long jumper before he drove down the lane for a rim-shaking dunk.
The teams exchanged baskets and with 2 minutes left in the game the Mountaineers held a 74-69 lead.
WVU came up empty on back to back possessions while the Sooners (16-7, 6-5) were able to score in transition. The lead was cut to 74-73 with 24.3 seconds on the clock.
Oklahoma let the clock run down to 13.1 before fouling Ahmad. The junior hit the first attempt but missed the second. Oklahoma got the rebound and raced up the court without calling a timeout.
Young almost lost the ball before he passed it to Rashard Odomes under the basket. Odomes had a chance to tie the game, but his quick shot was off the mark the buzzer sounded.
“We had the open court for Trae,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “I liked what we had. We had the timeout ready to call if we needed it but we talked about before the free throws that if Trae had the open court we wouldn’t call it, and he had a good look, good open court.”
Young, who leads the nation in scoring and assists, scored a game-high 32 points. However, he was held to just one assist in 26 minutes. Huggins gave credit to Javon Carter for slowing down the player of the year candidate.
“He’s terrific,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said of Young. “But the guy guarding him is pretty good. He’s not going to play against anyone better than the guy guarding him today. He was the national defensive player of the year for a reason.”
Brady Manek scored 12 points and grabbed 7 rebounds for the Sooners. No one else reached double figures.
Lamont West paced the Mountaineers with 17 points on 5 of 10 shooting. Ahmad and Sagaba Konate each scored 14 points while Carter chipped in with 10 points and eight assists.
The Mountaineers began the contest playing the same type of intense defense they unleashed on the Sooners in their first matchup. That included having Carter and James Bolden attack Oklahoma’s Trae Young with the hard-nosed, physical defense that seemed to rattle him in their earlier matchup.
It was that defense that helped WVU go on a 12-0 run midway through the first half that put them up 26-16.
West had his way early on offensively. He scored 15 points in the first 10 minutes of the half.
West Virginia didn’t attempt a single free throw in the first half, but was 8 of 13 from 3-point range as they led the Sooners 50-40 at halftime.
“For some reason no one ever fouls us,” Huggins said. “I’m not sure why that is. For some reason we never get fouled so they shot 10 more free throws than us.”
Turnovers continued to plague the Sooners in the second half. The Mountaineers were able to get their hands on the ball in traffic and come up with steals and deflections. As a team, WVU came up with nine steals.
“I mean, I think that’s just how they play. They like to rough up the game, not make the game easy,” Young said. “They just try to play physical. I don’t think anybody else in the country plays like how they play.”
The Sooners couldn’t overcome the turnovers and the missed shots at the rim as they lost for the first time at home this season.
OU will get a few days off before heading to Iowa State Saturday for a 1 p.m. tip-off versus the Clyclones.
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com