The Mountaineers were able to pull out a 76-71 victory over Oakland, but it wasn’t without drama. WVU was actually down by two at halftime that had just four wins coming into the game.
Despite a monstrous 25 points from guard Travis Bader, it wasn’t enough for the Golden Grizzlies to pull off a road win, as WVU improved to 5-5 on the season.
“This team just isn’t consistent. They do a good thing and then follow it up with a really dumb thing,” Huggins said. “That’s what we have to fix. We’ve got to keep working.”
In the game following Huggins’ emphatic post-game press conference after the Michigan game, the team struggled. The head coach admitted earlier in the week that after the loss to the Wolverines his team has been more dedicated to practice, but it didn’t show at times.
“It’s been frustrating. Nobody likes to lose like we’ve been,” said guard Juwan Staten, who had 11 points. “We still have bright spots when we go out and play the way that we know we can play. We just have to sustain it for 40 minutes, and we haven’t been able to do that.”
While senior forward Deniz Kilicli got the start, he finished scoreless for the second straight game in just nine minutes. He didn’t play in the second half. Neither did forward Kevin Noreen, as center Aaric Murray and forward Dominique Rutledge earned the majority of the minutes.
Murray returned to the lineup after not making the trip to Brooklyn, N.Y. on Saturday and finished with a team-high 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“[Huggins] doesn’t care how good you are. He’ll play and lose with a walk-on before he’s disrespected by someone,” Murray said. “I’m just going to make sure I’m not late to anything, I’m not missing anything and that I’m respectful off the court.”
The Mountaineers were able to shoot 52.9 percent – their best performance since Nov. 22 vs. Marist – and got some key second-half performances from forward Keaton Miles.
Player of the Game
Miles finished with 10 points including two big second-half threes as the Mountaineers were in a decisive run.
Freshman guard Terry Henderson also had 10 points.
West Virginia trailed 39-37 at halftime, but it really could’ve been much worse as the Golden Grizzlies had as big as an eight-point lead at one point in the first 20 minutes.
The Mountaineers had three more made baskets but made eight less free throws, which was the difference. WVU also was out-rebounded by five and turned the ball over nine times, which resulted in 14 Oakland points.
Murray and Noreen were hit with two fouls each and had to head to the bench, which brought Kilicli back in. Eventually, newcomer Volodymyr Gerun came in for two minutes late, as well.
Huggins started Murray over Kilicli in the second half, but the impact wasn’t felt, as the Golden Grizzlies took a 47-40 lead within the first three minutes out of the break.
WVU would hit eight straight points on a traditional three-point play from Murray, free throws from Staten and a three from freshman guard Eron Harris to take a 48-47 lead.
That run would continue, as Miles would drain two straight threes to jump out to a 58-54 lead. Following a steal and Staten layup, Oakland called a timeout down by six with 9:42 to play.
Soon after, guard Gary Browne found Rutledge for the play of the game, an ally-oop slam dunk to give WVU its biggest lead at 63-54.
Oakland wouldn’t go away, and a deep three by guard Duke Mondy made it 68-66 with less than five minutes to play.
Bader tied the game at 71 on a deep three with less than 2:30 to play. Following a WVU timeout, Browne hit a runner as the shot clock expired to take a 73-71 lead.
Oakland missed a mid-range jumper on the other end, which led to a turnover by the Mountaineers. With 28.6 seconds left, Oakland got the ball back with a chance to tie or lead. A controversial reach-in foul by Murray put Oakland forward Corey Petros to the free-throw line. He missed the first of a one-and-one, and Murray sunk one of two free throws to make it 74-71 with 15.5 seconds left.
Out of the timeout, Oakland got the ball to its best player Bader, but he missed a fall-away three, which allowed Murray to seal the game with free throws with 7.3 seconds to play.
Four Oakland players scored in double figures, but a 36.7 percent shooting effort in the second half doomed the Golden Grizzlies. Oakland had just three second-half points off turnovers after 14 in the first half.
Despite the advantage in size, WVU was outrebounded by two.