Questions remained after West Virginia waltzed through a nonconference schedule that rewarded it with an initial RPI worthy of the big dance. Sure, there was the win at Virginia, a solid dismantling of the then-No. 6 team in the nation which should hold up nicely as the season progresses. But outside of that, and a pair of games against Illinois and Temple in the NIT Season Tip-Off, the No. 11 Mountaineers remained largely untested throughout the first dozen games. Oklahoma State, it was assumed, would provide such.
But the combination of WVU's lethal pressure and its offensive efficiency proved overwhelming, as the Mountaineers picked up a quality road win that wasn't truly that close. West Virginia had runs of 9-0 (twice), 8-0 and 7-0, and were able to secure the game via a 13-3 push that morphed a 48-40 contest into a 61-43 blowout with 12 minutes to play. It once again used balanced scoring, with seven players scoring at least nine points, but only three in double digits. It beat Oklahoma State on the boards, forced 19 turnovers which generated 26 points and doubled up on the assist to turnover ratio, at 24 to 12. The 24 assists, by the way, represent an assist on 73 percent of the 33 made field goals.
Translation: West Virginia shares the ball, being unselfish almost to a point. And it feeds and fuels the need for additional possessions by creating turnovers by any means possible. There were steals, traveling calls, five and 10 second violations, tipped passes and passes simply thrown away by the Cowboys. At no juncture of the game was OSU close to challenging the Mountaineers (12-1) in this one, and it made for an almost too-easy initial conference road win.
"I thought we played pretty well," head coach Bob Huggins said on the MSN by IMG postgame radio show. "We got contributions from guys we (normally don't). Lamont hit big shots when they went zone to get them out of zone. Sags had a heck of a game. He can score it around the goal. Brandon gave us 25 minutes. I don't think he's ever given us 25 minutes before."
Indeed, West hit all three of his three-pointers, putting on the same step-in shooting display he showed at Virginia. Freshman Sagaba Konate set a new career high with 12 points, bettering his 11 scored in the season opener against Mount St. Mary's. And Brandon Watkins matched his career best in minutes previously set against Marshall in 2013. Alongside those somewhat surprising performances, WVU had its usual standouts as Dax Miles set a season-high with 22 points while Jevon Carter added 15 and Nathan Adrian chipped in with nine points and eight rebounds. Add in that eight different players saw at least 13 minutes, and the sheer numbers and depth with which West Virginia can exploit teams is largely unforeseen. As noted on the broadcast, Carter's 26.8 minutes per game are the second fewest among ranked programs for an individual team leader. Esa Ahmad's 12.9 points per game are the third fewest, and Adrian's 6.3 rebounds per game are tied for the fourth-fewest for a team leader. It makes for a total team effort every game out, and it's an impressive display to watch made better by the fact that West Virginia is using every asset it has available.
"You think of a year ago, to this point the biggest difference is we are passing it," Huggins said. "We almost overpass it now. We're unselfish. Whenever we made back cuts, we scored or got fouled or both. That tends to alleviate pressure. We talked before the game and at halftime, with us it comes down to possessions. We have to have more than our opposition. We have to have more shots than our opposition. It's the cumulative effect. We just wear on people."
Oklahoma State actually shot effectively. Point guard Jawun Evans produced a new career high in assists with 11, against just three turnovers. They had three players, Evans included, score at least 15 points. And none of it really mattered because West Virginia forced seven more turnovers than they committed, got seven more shots (interesting how that works at times), and shared the ball effectively enough to move the defense for quality looks, resulting in a 55 percent shooting rate from the field, seven percentage points above the season average of 48. With those numbers, the deck stacks in WVU's favor every time.
"There's nothing easy," Huggins said. "Guys in this league can really coach and players can really play. We talked before the game about how will your guys react (to a sold out crowd and Big 12 opener), but that's what we do all the time. Now we show our guys film, familiarize them with Texas Tech."
And on it goes. One down, 17 more in the league to go.