WVU fans left disappointed, but not upset
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia University's basketball team had No. 11 Oklahoma State right where it wanted the Cowboys.
It was a place that used to spell doom for Coliseum visitors.
The student section was literally jumping. A strong, partisan crowd of 12,078 was vocal. WVU, down by one, had the ball after a Bob Huggins timeout with 1:35 remaining.
The Coliseum does not, however, spell doom for visitors these days, and it did not again on Saturday. Brilliant Cowboys guard Marcus Smart was tremendous with 22 points and 13 rebounds. Fellow guard Markel Brown hit a clutch 3-point shot from the left wing.
Then, of all things, Mountaineer Juwan Staten missed a layup on a drive.
"I don't know why the ball didn't go in," a despondent Huggins said afterward. "I don't know why we didn't tip the ball in. If we'd put the ball in, we'd be sitting here talking how far we've come."
A funny thing happened, though, on the way out of the Coliseum.
Mountaineer fans didn't seem upset. Or miffed. Or frustrated.
Disappointed, yes. Their team had a very good Oklahoma State team on the proverbial ropes and, again, let an opportunity slip away.
But WVU on this night played hard. It seemed locked in. It seemed well prepared. It seemed determined.
It fell just an athletic player or play short.
"I thought [Oklahoma State] fouled Wanny on that last play," said Mountaineer big man Devin Williams. "And this was a tough loss. But I thought we came out with the right energy."
They did. And consider the two significant WVU stories this week. One was that Jonathan Holton's eligibility petition was denied. The other was Saturday's game.
"Jonathan is an energy guy," Williams said. "If he were out there we'd have the best frontcourt in the conference. But we just have to play with what we have."
It doesn't seem that will be enough in the Big 12. WVU is now 10-6 overall. It has no victories of substance.
Saturday's performance does, however, bode well for the future. The team traded punches with Smart and company. Staten was a worthy opponent for Smart. Williams had a double-double. WVU almost won with its top scorer, Eron Harris, in a funk.
Mountaineer sophomore Terry Henderson was especially impressive. His line: 7 of 13 from the floor, 5 of 7 on 3-point shots, 2 of 2 on free throws, six rebounds, four assists, one turnover, three blocked shots, two steals and 21 points.
He was clutch. After the aforementioned Huggins timeout, Henderson took a 3-point shot from the left wing and canned it to put the hosts up 72-70 with 1:16 left.
He was rebounding. He was drawing fouls. He was blocking the shots of players like 6-7 Cowboys standout Le'Bryan Nash.
"Terry's been getting better and better," Huggins said. "He was hurt early. He gets in there and works at it. He has really good bounce."
Henderson almost had Oklahoma State bounced out of the Coliseum.
"We're really young," Henderson said. "We don't have a lot of experience down the stretch. But we had a good crowd. We came to play as hard as we could. It's just mental mistakes at the end. We've got to correct those."
Understand there were more mistakes than that at the end. OSU took advantage of WVU inside to the tune of 26-14. It scored 18 points off turnovers to WVU's nine. Once, Williams took the ball out - by throwing it to Gary Browne, who was also standing out of bounds. Brandon Watkins telegraphed a pass, which was intercepted at the top of the key and subsequently dunked by Brown.
Yet West Virginia is improving. On Saturday, it stood up to a team with superior talent.
"If you sit back and let [Oklahoma State] attack you, it's not going to work," Henderson said. "You have to attack them."
We saw that. We saw Henderson's clutch shot.
"I just wanted to win," he said. "I just trusted my luck and shot with confidence. I thought we were going to win the game."
They almost did. Without Holton. Without much from Harris.
Players are developing.
"It's the same thing I said three weeks ago," Huggins said. "We're close."
Like a converted drive from all talking about how far they've come.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.