With revenge on their minds the West Virginia basketball squad entered Saturday's contest against Oklahoma State motivated. And it appeared through much of the matchup that the Mountaineers would avenge its heartbreaking loss to the Cowboys at the Coliseum.
But late foul trouble for the Mountaineers proved to be too much for the young squad, as the 11-ranked Cowboys managed to squeeze out another close victory against West Virginia in Stillwater 81-75.
After the offensive showcase between these two teams several weeks ago, it was surprising to some that Saturday's game got off to a slow start. A long baseline jumper from Devin Williams opened up the offensive play for the Mountaineers, but beyond this basket the first three minutes of play progresses rather flatly for both squads.
But prior to the first media timeout, the Mountaineers found themselves in a nice offensive rhythm. A pair of midrange jumpers from Juwan Staten, followed shortly thereafter by a long clanging three from Eron Harris, pushed West Virginia out front early 9-4 with 14:28 remaining in the half.
Oklahoma State appeared to shake its rough start exiting the timeout, relying on strong garbage play in the paint. A second-chance basket by Markel Brown, a hero for the Cowboys in the Coliseum several days ago, cut the Mountaineer's early lead down to three.
However, West Virginia's strong three-point shooting from Harris continued to keep his squad out front. Another deep three off a high screen from the sophomore guard helped the Mountaineers take a 14-8 lead into the second media timeout.
For the first eight minutes of the contest, the Cowboys appeared to be struggling against Bob Huggins' difficult defensive attack. Shooting under 30-percent from the field to kickoff the contest, Coach Travis Ford was looking for an offensive resurgence from his squad following the slow start.
To do so, Oklahoma State looked towards success from the free throw line. Three quick points for the Cowboys from the free throw line, coupled with a floater from Stevie Clark, allowed the home squad to cut its deficit to within three prior to the ten-minute mark in the half.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers appeared to struggle sustaining its high level of play in the difficult Stillwater environment. Following a pair of free throws from Nathan Adrian, a complete defensive breakdown allowed Clark to drive the length of the court, sliding in from the corner for the uncontested layup.
A jumper from Staten would help West Virginia persevere despite early team foul trouble and an unfortunate stretch of turnovers. The Cowboys would draw as close as three points in this span, riling up the near-capacity crowd at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
But a frontcourt steal and layup from Terry Henderson silenced the rowdy mass. The turnover and basket rocked the confidence of Oklahoma State, forcing Ford to call a timeout for his squad, down 23-17 with eight minutes left in the half.
The Mountaineers would catch another stroke of good luck at the seven-minute mark when the Cowboy's star guard Smart collected his second early foul in the contest. The All-American Smart would express his emotions on the sideline as West Virginia pushed forward to a seven-point advantage.
While common sense might dictate that the Cowboys would struggle without Smart, the exact opposite appeared to occur. Within a minute and a half of Smart's benching, Oklahoma State managed to tie the contest up for the first time since tip at 26, thanks to a three pointer from Clark.
Following the brief stalemate, West Virginia managed to push ahead once again thanks to the efforts of Staten. The junior guard would tack on a pair of free throws and a deep jumper, giving him 12 points in the half and putting the Mountaineers back up by four.
But that brief spurt for the Mountaineers, the Cowboys would come rolling back. A driving layup from Le'Bryan Nash, his 14-point of the afternoon, pushed Oklahoma State ahead for the first time, giving them a 31-30 advantage at the final media timeout of the half.
West Virginia would retake the lead with a three from Remi Dibo, but the bottom would shortly fall out to end the half. A 10-0 run for Oklahoma State, aided by a foul-fatigued Mountaineer squad, allowed the Cowboys to enter the locker room at halftime with a 42-35 lead.
The lengthy Oklahoma State run would be broken by Harris to open the second half as the sophomore guard connected with his third three of the contest. The long basket cut into the Mountaineer's deficit, with the Cowboys holding a four-point advantage a minute into the half.
Harris would continue to be the early catalyst for West Virginia success in the second half. Several minutes after his opening bucket, the guard managed to even things up yet again with the Cowboys, hitting another deep three to tie the contest at 44 entering the first media timeout.
The Mountaineers would retake the lead for the first time in over eight minutes exiting the timeout, but the advantage would not last long. Both squads managed to swap advantages for the ensuing four-minute period, with a 360-degree dunk from Oklahoma State's Brown highlighting the span. The Cowboys entered the under 12:00 media timeout holding a 51-50 advantage.
Some momentum appeared for West Virginia exiting the media timeout, thanks to continued foul trouble for the Cowboys. A pair of fouls by Oklahoma State towards Henderson allowed the Mountaineers to push forward with a three-point lead, with the controversial calls frustrating the crowd in Stillwater.
But an open three from Phil Forte, his first of the contest, ignited the crowd yet again. The trifecta tied up the contest at 54, forcing Coach Huggins to call a timeout with 10:25 remaining.
Again, both squads would swap the advantage exiting the West Virginia timeout, with the contest remaining a 60-60 stalemate at the under 8:00 media timeout.
Exiting the break, it appeared that Oklahoma State would manage to swing momentum in its favor with a quick spurt of points from Nash alone putting the Cowboys up 68-60 with 5:30 remaining in the contest.
The Cowboys would push ahead by as much as nine before a pair of Harris threes cut the lead to three with 3:45 remaining. But the good vibes would soon be thwarted by Harris' fifth foul of the afternoon. The sophomore guard would foul out with 21 points, as West Virginia entered the final media timeout trailing 72-67.
Without Harris the Mountaineers appeared to struggle closing the contest. The Cowboys would press ahead, extending the lead to as much as eight points with two minutes remaining.
West Virginia would close the gap gradually, cutting it to within three thanks to an Adrian trifecta with one minute remaining. It appeared that Coach Huggins' squad might make a final push towards victory.
But the Cowboys proved to be too much late in the contest. A second-chance layup from Williams with 24 seconds remaining kept the Mountaineers within one possession of the Pokes, but ultimately Oklahoma State would sneak out the victory.
Final: Oklahoma State 81, West Virginia 75.
The Mountaineers were led in scoring by the guard duo of Eron Harris and Juwan Staten. Harris tacked on 21 points and Staten 19 in the loss.
West Virginia returns to action Tuesday as they travel to Waco, TX to take on the Baylor Bears. Tipoff is set for 7pm.