Team Ball!

West Virginia showed the value of team play over individual stars as the Mountaineers routed number seven Oklahoma 92-68 in Oklahoma City on Thursday night. WVU shot 66.7% from the field, the second best mark in school history, as they sent the Sooners packing with a smashing loss.

The Mountaineers were led by Kevin Pittsnogle's 25 points and Joe Herber's 21, but just about every player in the game for WVU made offensive contributions. Mike Gansey added 15 points and Frank Young 14 as WVU ran the Sooner Schooner back down the road toward their Norman campus.

The Sooners relied on Taj Gray and Michael Neal for 47 of their 68 points, but at times the pair seemed to be more intent on mugging for the ESPN2 cameras and celebrating baskets than concentrating on the game. Gray, who had an impressive 31 points and eight rebounds, was almost impossible to stop inside, but he could not offset the balanced scoring from the Mountaineers, who put four players in double figures while playing just eight in the contest. Neal, who scored a career high 16 points (all in the first half) likewise was celebrating early when the Sooners ran out to an early lead, but was shut out, and silenced, in the second half.

"I'm in a bit of shock," a hoarse John Beilein said following the win. "I think our kids played as good a basketball game as we have ever played. We changed defenses a few times, and I thought our man was good as well."

WVU outscored the Sooners 49-34 in the second half, again putting on a clinic of cuts, screens backdoors and drives to the basket. The outstanding display had the more athletic Sooners in a state of shock, and only Gray's play kept it the margin from being even bigger than the final 24 points.

"In the second half we ran almost no plays," Beilein said. "They went zone and matchup zone. We'd call something, but then we'd find advantages and just play ball. That's what we want to do, and we did it. Our bench was great. It was a great win."

In the first half, West Virginia fell into an early hole as the Sooners began the game on an 11-2 run. Oklahoma got three offensive rebounds on its first four possessions (the other resulted in an alley-oop dunk to Gray) and appear poised to blow the Mountaineers out of the building before the game got started. However, the Mountaineers quickly battled back and forged a 15-15 tie on the strength of a Kevin Pittsnogle steal and coast-to-coast drive for a layup.

"They are quick and physical, and I think we had one or two of our six turnovers there," Beilein said of the early deficit. "It just seemed like we weren't quite into it. Kevin made a huge bank shot and Joe made a drive, and it was like ‘we are ok now'. Then Frank hits the three [to make the score 11-9] and we are back in the game

The Mountaineer 1-3-1 defense then began to bother the Sooners, who got away from their dominant inside attack. Guard Michael Neal, a 33.8% shooter coming into the game, began throwing in shots from all distances, but his display kept Gray and Kevin Bookout from seeing the ball as much in the lane, where they could have done more damage. Despite Neal's 16 first half points, built largely on the strength of four three-pointers, WVU took the lead and pushed it out to ten at 37-27 before the Sooners cut it to 41-34 at the break. Bookout, normally a huge inside force, played far fewer minutes that usual, partly due to the presence of Pittsnogle, who took Bookout to the perimeter when the Sooners played zone.

All seven of the Mountaineers who played significant minutes made big contributions in the game. Darris Nichols had five consecutive points in the first half to help WVU build its first lead, and Patrick Beilein hit a huge three-pointer in the second half to put the Mountaineers up by 11 after a Sooner rally had cut the deficit to five. Beilein also had four assists, four rebounds, and battled mightily on the defensive boards to help keep the rebounding deficit to a manageable eight.

WVU will remain in Oklahoma City overnight, then practice tomorrow before breaking for the Christmas holiday. WVU's next game will be December 30 at home against Canisius. But for now, the Mountaineers will enjoy the Christmas holiday by reliving the rout of the Sooners.

"I've told my teams in the past that there's no Santa Claus if we don't win, but we got this one," Beilein joked. "It's a great way to go back home for the holidays."

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