|Eron Harris scored a team-best 17 points in last year's 80-66 loss to the Cowboys at the Coliseum.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It’s pretty much a pick-your-poison deal when playing 11th-ranked Oklahoma State.
Help too much on Marcus Smart and then backcourt mate Markel Brown goes off. Pay too much attention to Smart and Brown, and then junior forward Le’Bryan Nash does his thing around the rim. Shoot too quickly, or miss a bunch of shots, and you can watch all of them go off to the races.
Yes, the Cowboys this year once again present a number of challenges.
“They are the most athletic team that we’ve faced to this point,” admitted West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “We’ve got to somehow keep them out of transition.”
In both games last year, Oklahoma State nearly wore the paint off the floor running up and down on the Mountaineers in a pair of double-digit victories.
In the first meeting in Stillwater, Brown and backup guard Phil Forte did most of the damage, scoring a combined 50 points while going a combined 10-of-17 from 3.
In Morgantown, it was Brown, Nash and Smart who combined to get 46 of Oklahoma State’s 73 points. In both games, the Cowboys shot better than 45 percent and used big second-half runs to pull away from West Virginia.
“We’ve got to keep them out of transition and the best way to keep them out of transition is to score,” said Huggins. “We need to take quick shots, but we need to be selective with our quick shots. What we can’t do is bang them off the front of the rim and it works like an outlet pass and they’re off to the races.”
The Cowboys (12-2, 1-1) show non-conference wins over Memphis, Purdue, Butler, South Carolina and Colorado, and also a 13-point victory over Texas in their most recent game on Jan. 8. One of Oklahoma State’s two losses this year came at Kansas State in the conference opener on Jan. 4.
Oklahoma State is now playing without 6-foot-8 junior post player Michael Cobbins, who tore his Achilles tendon during December 30th’s win against Robert Morris.
Cobbins was averaging 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds with 19 blocks. Cobbins gave the Mountaineers problems last year in the paint, scoring 17 points and grabbing eight boards in the two games. Initially, Huggins thought losing Cobbins might be a big deal for Oklahoma State, but it looks like his replacement in the lineup, Kamari Murphy, has been just as effective.
“Murphy is a heck of a shot blocker,” said Huggins. “They’re all so athletic and so quick to the ball. Smart has made some eye-popping blocks. The biggest thing was he was their rim protector.”
With or without Cobbins, Smart is having another exceptional season and will likely be a lottery pick whenever he chooses to leave school for the NBA draft. He is averaging 17.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game, while shooting 45.8 percent from the floor.
And Brown has been just as good, averaging 17.1 points, 4.9 boards and 3.1 assists per game while making better than half of his field goal attempts this season. Smart and Brown are No.’s 4 and 5 in the Big 12 in scoring this week.
Nash, a 6-foot-7 forward, is averaging 13.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
“Le’Bryan Nash was a McDonald’s All-American (in high school) and I think he’s playing the best that he’s ever played, so they’ve got a lot of guys,” noted Huggins.
West Virginia, too, has been playing well of late, picking up a pair of Big 12 wins in Texas last weekend while putting together a modest three-game winning streak.
In its most recent victory against Texas Tech on Monday night, the Mountaineers got 25 from Juwan Staten
in an 89-86 overtime victory over the Red Raiders. Sophomore guard Eron Harris
added 18, although Huggins said afterward that Monday night’s performance was not one of Harris’ best.
Harris is averaging a team-best 18.5 points per game, while Staten shows averages of 16.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.0 assists in what should be an outstanding matchup of big-time guards.
Freshman forward Devin Williams
is coming off a pair of 12-point games against TCU and Texas Tech and shows averages of 9.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Williams is fourth on the team with eight double-digit scoring games and leads the team with five double-figure rebounding performances.
Sophomore guard Terry Henderson
is giving West Virginia and additional 11.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game, and has reached double figures in seven of his last nine games.
West Virginia (10-5, 2-0) is still searching for a big-time victory to out itself into postseason contention, and the Mountaineers are also looking to protect their home floor against a quality opponent in front of an expected big crowd on Saturday afternoon against Oklahoma State.
More than 10,000 is anticipated and tickets will remain available online until noon tomorrow at WVUGAME.com. After that, fans can purchase tickets at the Coliseum beginning at 2:30 p.m. ahead of Saturday’s 4 p.m. tip.
The game will be televised on the Big 12 Network (Mitch Holthus and Bryndon Manzer) and will air on affiliates throughout West Virginia (locally, the game will be seen on WDTV in Clarksburg instead of WVFX). The Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG’s radio coverage will begin with the pregame show at 3:30 p.m. and will be carried throughout the state.