West Virginia's Lackadaisical Pressure Proves Ineffective Against Oklahoma In Overtime Defeat

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - There are a series of things West Virginia can't do if it's going to win, and the No. 7 Mountaineers checked off a majority of the boxes in the 89-87 upset loss to Oklahoma in overtime.

West Virginia was dominated in the paint, allowing 48 points from close range, along with 20 second-chance points on 14 OU offensive rebounds. WVU forced a season-low 12 turnovers, and managed just 15 points off such. And they left 11 points at the line, including a 4-for-9 effort in overtime that was reminiscent of the another upset loss at Texas Tech. Compound that with a 7-for-25 game from three-point range for a paltry 28 percent, and the Mountaineer stat lines had all the trimmings for a below-.500 Oklahoma team to secure its biggest win of the season, and on the road no less.

But what was really the culprit? As a whole, the team pointed to a lack of defense, and that nutshelled it for the most part. West Virginia showcased as poor of transition and halfcourt defense as the Mountaineers have managed this season. WVU often failed to cut off the ball on run outs and press breaks, which allowed either excellent looks from close, or a drive and dump to cutters from the wings and baseline. West Virginia also showed late rotations and help side defense - some which should not have occurred at all. It led to an avalanche of points in the paint for the Oklahoma, which repeatedly scored at the rim when Elijah Macon would rotate late onto the ball handler, who was already in position to score.

That not only didn't affect the shooter, but it also opened the opposite side rebound, which is the most frequent type in the game. That resulted in putback looks as OU managed 13 second chance points while outrebounding WVU 24 to 18 in the first half alone. That continued on a more across-the-board basis in the second half, the Sooners getting decent looks at the rim and, when not converting, managing to corral the board and hit the putback. It wasn't just Macon. The guards failed to cut into the proper passing angles on a routine basis. The backside rotations on the press were poor. And the inability to stop the ball in transition became almost shockingly bad, even as the game wore into overtime.

"We didn't rotate right," forward Nate Adrian said. "It's not what we are taught to do. We weren't getting to where we were supposed to be at all this game, honestly. We should have ran through more balls than we did, so as a result, we lost. They played well, but we didn't guard anybody. It's all energy and getting to where we are supposed to be."

The bug had bitten West Virginia time and again in the game, but the fatal nip didn't come until Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard drove the ball nearly coast-to-coast with seven seconds left in the extra period, hitting a running lay-in with three seconds left that put the Sooners ahead 89-87. It was a microcosm of the game, WVU failing to cut off penetration, failing to force Woodard to move side to side, failing to get enough help side defense to at least affect the shot. Instead, it was a neat kiss-in off the glass, and the Mountaineers responded with throwing the ball the length of the floor to nobody, where it bounded out of bounds and turned over to OU, which sealed it with a simple inbounds pass.

"We didn't guard the ball down the stretch when we needed to," said Jevon Carter, who tried to put the offense on his back late. "It's something we have to get better at if we are going to win tough games. I can't give you a formula. It just happened. I guess we weren't focused. We honestly just didn't come to play."

In fairness, Oklahoma under head coach Lon Kruger has traditionally handled the Mountaineer pressure effectively. The Sooners, who have now beaten WVU in four of the last five series games, are one of just five programs to commit 11 or fewer turnovers in regulation against WVU over the last two seasons. Their 12 total represents just the ninth time over the last two-plus seasons that the Mountaineers haven't been able to force at least a baker's dozen in miscues. Part of it is the excellent spacing of OU in transition, part of it the ability of agile forwards to run the floor and receive passes from guards in difficult spots on the floor. But quite a lot of it sits squarely on the shoulders of the Mountaineers on this one.

"They only had 12 turnovers, and that's not enough," Adrian said. "We have to get more shots than that. (The Big 12 is) a tough league all the way through. There is no bad team so if you don't come to play every night you will get beat."

Now West Virginia has two examples in Texas Tech and Oklahoma, with an incredibly difficult two-game stretch coming over the next week. WVU plays at a surging Kansas State squad on Saturday, then hosts to No. 2 Kansas this Tuesday at the Coliseum. It's a very real possibility the Mountaineers are staring at solid odds of a three-game skid which would bury a chance to win the regular season league title. As it is, the Sooners delivered a huge blow to those hopes already. Calling it a crossroads might be a bit early for a 15-3 team out to a 4-2 start in among the nations' toughest conferences. But it's at least a gut check for Press Virginia as to if its willing to make the game-in, game-out effort demanded to play the style at a Top 10 level.

"We can't drop two in a row," Adrian said. "We have to go out and win a lot of games in a row now. It's always tough on the road."


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