Jeffrey Carroll, Jawun Evans and their Oklahoma State teammates now know how first-year head coach Brad Underwood expects the Cowboys to play. Going against an aggressive, defensive-minded West Virginia team in the Big 12 opener Friday afternoon, the Cowboys committed 19 turnovers and struggled to find their rhythm offensively in suffering a 92-75 loss to the 11th-ranked Mountaineers.
The first sold-out Gallagher-Iba Arena crowd of the Underwood coaching era greeted the visitors from West Virginia but it didn’t seem to effect the Mountaineers, who shot 55 percent from the field and led by as many as 22 points in the second half on the way to the victory.
The Cowboys are now 10-3 overall and 0-1 in Big 12 play, while West Virginia improves to 12-1 and 1-0.
“We lost to a really, really, really good basketball team,” Underwood said. “They are really good and that was on full display today. Their press makes the game ugly, it’s never quite pretty against them.
“They make you see things differently. It’s not about X’s and O’s and how pretty your offense looks and this or that, it’s about toughness. It’s about getting punched, and I use that term smacked in the jaw, and how do you respond. They speed you up, they create anxiety and the feeling of being uncomfortable. How do you handle that? We’ve got a ways to go," he said.
Oklahoma State led 2-0 on Lucas N’Guessan’s dunk early but it didn’t take long for the Mountaineers to take control. In the first 10 minutes, West Virginia made 10 of its first 14 shots, used a 9-0 run to take control early and raced out to a 26-12 lead. The Cowboys pulled within 29-23 on back-to-back Leyton Hammonds three-pointers but that’s as close as it would get the rest of the way.
“It’s a lot of chaos, a lot of running around. I feel like we didn’t come out with the intensity that we usually do,” said Cowboys point guard Jawun Evans, who finished he struggled in the first half when the Mountaineers took control, scoring only three points while committing two turnovers and being forced to watch from the bench after picking up his second foul with 4:50 remaining.
Underwood was not pleased with the Cowboys defensive pressure as the Mountaineers shot 55 percent for the game (33 of 60 from the field).
“I was disappointed in our half-court defense. That’s what’s so bothersome,” he said. “It’s the breakdowns that we have to clean up… The charges, the loose balls, every scrum seemed to be them coming up with the ball. Give that guy with 800-plus wins (West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins) a lot of credit because he demands that they do it, and they did it better than we did today.
“Those freshmen, it was good for them to get a little taste of it. It’s a different arena to play in when you play them. We’ll be fine.”
The Mountaineers outscored the Cowboys 50-30 in the paint and scored 26 points off OSU’s 19 turnovers. They also had 24 assists on their 33 field goals.
“We bailed out of four charges in the first half. We haven’t been doing that against Corpus Christi or those teams. We did today, and those are things you can’t do,” Underwood said. “We are one of the leading free-throw shooting teams in the country, we shot 60 percent today.
“Against good teams, when it’s hard, when it’s really, really, really hard and things aren’t going your way, you have to make those plays and make those free throws. I have to do a better job of demanding toughness, demanding that from them, not accepting that, and we’ll get there.”
Phil Forte led the Cowboys with 18 points. Leyton Hammonds played probably his best game of the season with 17 points, 7 rebounds and no turnovers, and Evans contributed 15 points and 11 assists despite finishing with five turnovers.
“It’s one game. We’ve got 17 more in conference play,” Underwood said.
The Cowboys return to the court Wednesday night when they travel to Texas to face the Longhorns. Tip is scheduled for 7 p.m.