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Mountaineers hang on, beat Oakland

MORGANTOWN -- The last time West Virginia played a basketball game, Aaric Murray wasn't even invited to go along on the trip. When the Mountaineers played Wednesday night, though, he was indispensable.

Murray had 12 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and four assists as West Virginia overcame another slow start to beat Oakland, 76-71, at the Coliseum.

"Aaric's an amazing player,'' said teammate Keaton Miles, whose pair of 3-pointers helped fuel a 23-7 run midway through the second half that allowed West Virginia to overcome what had been an almost game-long deficit.  "And when you get him giving his all and going all in, you get a night like tonight.''

Not giving his all and not going all in, however, gets Murray what he got last weekend, which was a seat at home while the Mountaineers traveled to Brooklyn to face No. 3 Michigan. Whether his presence would have made a difference in that 81-66 loss can be debated, but there was no doubt he was a significant reason the Mountaineers were able to break a two-game losing streak Wednesday night in front of a small crowd of just 4,982.

"Honestly, Aaric will have a couple of good days and then he'll have a real bad day,'' West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "He kind of mirrors our team in a lot of ways. He can't handle prosperity.''

Against Oakland, Murray didn't start but came off the bench less than four minutes into the game and dominated at times, even though he found himself in early foul trouble. He scored on a closely-guarded hook shot and a 3-pointer from the top of the key in the first half and had three assists and two blocks.

In the second half he started that 23-7 run with a three-point play and then watched Dominique Rutledge take over inside with a dunk. Miles and Eron Harris each had 3s and Rutledge converted an alley-oop pass from Gary Browne into another dunk and all of a sudden WVU had a nine-point lead.

Oakland didn't go away, though, getting long 3-pointers from Travis Bader (25 points, including six 3s) and Duke Mondy and with 21/2 minutes to play the score was tied at 71.

Browne made what proved to be the winning score on what amounted to a garbage basket with 1:51 to play. He scooped up a loose ball well in the backcourt after Juwan Staten had lost the handle and charged toward the basket with the shot clock running out. He made his 14-footer for a 73-71 lead.

Neither team scored on a pair of possessions after that and Murray clinched at least a tie with one free throw with 18 seconds to play to make it a three-point game, 74-71. Bader then missed a 3-pointer with 7.3 seconds to all but end it. Murray added two free throws for the final margin.

Bader was West Virginia's chief problem as the skinny 6-5 junior seemed to make everything until the end.

"We wanted to make him take tough shots,'' Staten said of Bader, who generally had easy, open ones in the first half. "We knew if we continued to make him take tough shots he'd eventually miss.''

The win improves West Virginia to 5-5 and snaps a two-game losing streak. Oakland, which also lost a big lead and fell to Pitt this year, is now 4-8.

Staten had 11 points, five assists and three steals for WVU, while Miles and Terry Henderson each had 10 points. The Mountaineers shot 52.9 percent and lost the rebounding battle by just two, 34-32, but that was after getting just one rebound in the first eight minutes of the game.

Oakland lived and died by the 3-pointer, making 10 of 19.

Much as was the case in a Saturday night loss to No. 3 Michigan in Brooklyn, West Virginia shot the ball unusually well to start the game, but did almost nothing else right and fell behind quickly and stayed behind. The Mountaineers made their first three shots and led 8-4, but eight minutes into the game had just one rebound.

As a result of a complete lack of rebounding and some sloppy turnovers, West Virginia fell behind 16-10 and then 22-14 before battling back to take a 29-28 lead. That lasted only seconds, though, before Oakland went on an 11-2 run to go up 39-31.

The Mountaineers did manage to get within 39-37 at halftime and tied the game at 39 to start the second half, but then quickly fell behind again, 47-40. That's when West Virginia finally turned things around and began making a game of it.

The Mountaineers return to action Saturday, facing Radford in a 4 p.m. game at the Coliseum. After that they are off for a week before hosting Eastern Kentucky on Dec. 30.

Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickman1@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.


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