STILLWATER, Okla. - West Virginia suffered another of those close losses Saturday that have come to almost define its season. The circumstances were different, to be sure, but the result was not.
This time it was an afternoon of torturous whistles and almost mind-numbing delays. Fifty-six fouls, 66 free throws, six disqualifications and almost 21/2 hours after it began, No. 11 Oklahoma State had its second nail-biting win over WVU in as many weeks, this one 81-75 at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
"We had our chances to win,'' WVU guard Eron Harris said. "We just didn't do all the little things we have to do to win.''
Indeed, the Mountaineers led most of the first half, were tied with eight minutes to play and then had the basketball and a chance to tie with under a minute to play. But just as happened two weeks earlier in a 73-72 loss to the Cowboys at home, they couldn't get the job done.
The loss further extended West Virginia's futility against teams in the upper half of the Big 12. The Mountaineers (11-9, 3-4 Big 12) are 9-1 in league play last year and this year against Texas, Texas Tech and TCU, but now 0-15 against the six teams that made the NCAA or NIT tournaments last season.
The road does not get any easier for WVU in the coming days and weeks. The team will stay in the Southwest until a Tuesday night game at No. 24 Baylor. The next four games after that are also against ranked teams - home against No. 22 Kansas State and No. 25 Oklahoma, at No. 8 Kansas and home against No. 16 Iowa State.
Oklahoma State (16-3, 4-2), meanwhile, got back on the right track after losing to No. 8 Kansas last Saturday and then having a full week off.
The everlasting image of Saturday's game should no doubt be a whistle. West Virginia was called for 32 fouls and Oklahoma State for 24. Both teams got 25 points at the free-throw line, WVU on 32 attempts and OSU on 34.
Arguably Oklahoma State's two best players, Marcus Smart and Le'Bryan Nash, both fouled out, although Nash did so while playing most of the game and collecting 29 points. Smart's absence was noticeable because he played just 25 minutes and scored only four points.
The fouls, though, seemed to affect West Virginia even more. For starters, the Mountaineers had to play much of the game without any big men on the floor because of foul trouble, in part leading to Nash's career-high scoring day.
But perhaps more telling was the foul trouble encountered by WVU's leading scorer, Harris, who seemed well on his way to one of his best performances.
Even he thought so.
"I really thought this game I was more confident and playing better than maybe I ever have,'' Harris said.
Harris made six of his seven 3-point attempts and scored 21 points, but he played only 21 minutes. He sat out much of the second half with four fouls after opening that half with nine straight points. When he returned with 7:07 to play and WVU about to go down by eight, he led a rally that cut the deficit to 70-67.
That came on back-to-back 3-pointers by Harris just before he fouled out, and the Mountaineers couldn't generate any real offense after he left.
Harris, though, wasn't blaming West Virginia's loss on fouls. He said the Mountaineers simply have to learn to do those little things right and that there are others who can score besides him.
"I'm just a piece of the puzzle like everyone else,'' said Harris, who is third in the Big 12 in scoring. "We have others who can play, too.''
None, though, were able to pick up the slack on Saturday. The Mountaineers pulled within 75-72 with less than a minute to play, in part thanks to a Nathan Adrian 3-pointer and some inside moves by Devin Williams.
But Adrian missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 43 seconds to go just before he fouled out. West Virginia was within three again after that, but never with the ball because OSU's Phil Forte made six straight free throws.
WVU coach Bob Huggins later lamented the loss of Harris to foul trouble, insisting that his absence probably hurt West Virginia more than Smart's absence affected OSU. Smart might be the best player in the Big 12, but in Nash and Markel Brown and others the Cowboys have other marquee players. That's not as true with WVU.
"We kind of let it get away from us at the end of the first half, but then we came back. We got back in the game,'' Huggins said. "But you know, it's hard when we lose Eron. Eron gets 21 in 21 minutes, so losing him for us is like them losing Marcus Smart.''
Yes, WVU did let things get away at the end of the first half. For the better part of those 20 minutes, West Virginia handled the Cowboys. But for the last two minutes OSU dominated and took the lead.
OSU ended the half on a 10-0 run as WVU turned the ball over on four of its last five possessions and the Cowboys led 42-35 at halftime. That was after West Virginia led by as many as seven points and hadn't trailed until the final minutes, but the first of Brown's two spectacular dunks in the game - the other was a 360-degree glider in the second half - helped send the Cowboys into the locker room on a high note.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
OKLAHOMA ST. 87, WEST VIRGINIA 81
West Virginia (11-9, 3-4)
Min FG FT R A P
Williams 21 2-9 2-2 9 0 6