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January 11, 2014

WVU drops heartbreaker to Cowboys, 73-72

Despite playing solid basketball for much of the afternoon, finishing continued to be a problem for the West Virginia Mountaineers. After swapping leads for much of the game, the 11-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys were ultimately too much to handle for the Mountaineers, winning a close 73-72 contest Saturday in Morgantown.

With a rawkus student section at their backs, the Mountaineers opened up Saturday afternoon's matchup with a burst of energy, pulling out to an early 4-0 and riling the Coliseum to its feet. A pair of missed opportunities for the Cowboys allowed West Virginia to parlay its early momentum into points, with a driving layup by Terry Henderson keeping the Mountaineers ahead.

The early momentum would not cease quickly for the Mountaineers, as a number of big plays on both sides of the court kept them ahead at the first media timeout. A diving steal from Juwan Staten, picking the pocket of All-American Marcus Smart, led to a pair of free throws by the guard, giving West Virginia a 10-7 advantage at the break.

West Virginia would try and sustain the early lead with a barrage of outside shots from various players. A long straightaway jumper from Devin Williams and Henderson three pointer on back-to-back possessions put the Mountaineers up 15-7 with 15:00 remaining in the half.

Oklahoma State would attempt to match the Mountaineers shot-for-shot, with Le'Bryan Nash attacking a weakened West Virginia post. A free throw and layup by the Cowboys big man brought the Pokes to within three at the 13:44 mark.

But again, Staten proved to be the first half Achilles heel for the Cowboys. The guard continued to slash through Oklahoma State's man defense, putting another driving layup on the board to give the Mountaineers a 17-12 advantage at the second media break.

Exiting the timeout, Oklahoma State began to show signs of an 11-ranked squad, pushing the pace with a pair of three pointers from Stevie Clarke and Phil Forte along with more up-tempo offense.

After trading baskets for several minutes, a Smart dunk and Nash layup tied the contest for the first time of the afternoon at 24. It appeared, with the quick pace and motivated play, the Cowboys would break out for the first true run of the contest.

But the Mountaineers continued to fight, breaking the short stalemate a mere seconds later thanks to a corner three from Eron Harris. A corner jumper off the glass by Henderson on the ensuing possession, following a block of Nash from the guard, gave West Virginia a five-point advantage with 7:55 left in the half.

West Virginia would continue to attack the Cowboys from outside when available, this time with Remi Dibo. Exiting the media timeout, the Mountaineer forward attacked from his favorite spot on the court - deep. The quick three pushed West Virginia to its biggest lead of the contest, up 32-24.

The eight-point advantage would not last long, however, with four consecutive points by Nash cutting into the West Virginia advantage. The Mountaineers would take a four-point lead into the final media timeout.

Both teams would swap momentum in the final three and a half minutes, but the Cowboys were never able to take the lead from West Virginia. With the game tied at 39 and seconds left on the clock, a short buzzer-beating jumper from Williams sent the Mountaineers into the locker room with a 41-39 advantage.

Once the second half got underway, Oklahoma State began to strut its offensive chops. A mid-range jumper from Brian Williams tied the game up at 43, before a West Virginia turnover led to a laser three from Smart. The basket, and mini-run, gave the Cowboys their first lead of the game at 46-43.

A driving layup from Harris cut into the lead several possessions later, but Oklahoma State managed to carry a 47-45 lead into the first media timeout.

It would only take a few minutes before the Mountaineers managed to retake the advantage from a surging Cowboys squad. A big block from the 6'4 Henderson transitioned into a three pointer from the sophomore guard, giving the lead back to West Virginia at 50-47.

A three pointer from the Cowboy's Forte pushed Oklahoma State back into the lead, but West Virginia remained in striking distance, down 54-52 with 11 minutes remaining in the contest.

The Mountaineers struck a break at this period, or so they thought, with the benching of Smart. The Oklahoma State star collected his third foul of the contest, sending in to the bench for a short span.

But, if anything, the Cowboys became even more relentless with Smart on the bench, in his two-minute absence, Oklahoma State managed to rack off a 9-2 run to push its lead further ahead 58-53.

A traditional three-point play from Staten helped the Mountaineers cut into the lead slightly, but various answers by the Cowboys allowed them to hang on to a 62-57 lead with 7:48 remaining.

Oklahoma State appeared to retain momentum on its side, holding the Mountaineers at bay for the next several minutes. Both teams would find themselves deep within a slight scoring lull, with the Cowboys maintaining a three-point advantage with just under six minutes to play.

After returning to the court with three fouls, Smart would break the scoring drought, and seemingly West Virginia's spirit with an open three from the corner. The basket put the Mountaineers down 67-62.

But, if anything, the Smart three jolted the Mountaineers back into reality. On the ensuing possession, Henderson would answer Smart's three pointer, cutting the deficit back down to two points.

West Virginia would follow that with a defensive stop and layup from Staten, tying the contest for the first time since the 12-minute mark. A free throw from Oklahoma State on its ensuing possession put the Cowboys up by one - 68-67 - heading into the final media timeout.

The Mountaineers managed to break through shortly after the timeout, with a three pointer from Henderson giving West Virginia a 72-70 lead with 1:14 remaining.

Oklahoma State, however, would manage to answer the late West Virginia lead, with a Brown three pointer giving them a 73-72 advantage with 11.6 seconds remaining.

With time on the clock, West Virginia's Staten attempted to close out the upset with a buzzer-beating victory. But a tall, collapsing Oklahoma State defense would hold firm, thwarting the Mountaineer's upset bid.

Final: Oklahoma State 73, West Virginia 72.

West Virginia was led in scoring by Juwan Staten and Terry Henderson, who put up 20 and 21 points, respectively.

The Mountaineers will return to the Coliseum Monday to take on the Texas Longhorns. Tipoff is set for 7pm.

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