STILLWATER, Okla. - In some ways, West Virginia's game with Oklahoma State Saturday resembled the one the Mountaineers played three days earlier against TCU. Both times the Mountaineers played a solid stretch of some of their best defense of the season.
That's where the similarities ended, though.
After shutting down Oklahoma State for much of the first half with a smothering defensive effort and building a surprising 13-point lead, the Mountaineers simply fell apart. They made OSU's Phil Forte a star by leaving him open for 3-pointers and the Cowboys won going away, 80-66.
The loss was West Virginia's fourth in the last five games and dropped the Mountaineers to 9-10 overall and 2-4 in the Big 12. Oklahoma State improved to 13-5 overall and 3-4 in the league.
There were other reasons the Cowboys were able to rally, of course. West Virginia's offense stopped scoring after OSU switched to a zone defense, and the Mountaineers lost nearly all of their intensity on defense when the Cowboys began to rally and brought the crowd of 7,512 to life at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
But it was Forte who pulled the trigger and got things going. That was mystifying to the Mountaineers because containing Forte is not particularly complicated.
"The only thing he can do is get the ball and shoot it,'' West Virginia center Deniz Kilicli said. "He's not going to create anything dribbling the ball. He's not going to play pick-and-rolls or anything. He's just going to come and shoot the ball.''
West Virginia let him, time and time again.
Forte, a 5-foot-11 freshman from WVU quarterback Paul Millard's hometown of Flower Mound, Texas, is a reserve averaging 10.8 points. He doesn't pass the ball extremely well, with just 12 assists in 17 games before Saturday. He doesn't rebound (1.4 per game) or penetrate, and he's not exactly a defensive stopper.
What he does is shoot the ball, averaging more than twice as many 3-point attempts per minute played as anyone else on the roster. He doesn't even make an exceptionally high percentage of his shots, 37 percent.
But leave him open and he's deadly. West Virginia's defense wasn't even in his neighborhood at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second and he drained them, making three in a row at one point and then another early in the second half.
"All he does is shoot,'' said freshman guard Eron Harris, who led WVU with 17 points and five 3-pointers. "It's just stupid to go ahead and let him do it.''
Before the day was out, Forte would have six 3s and a career-high 26 points. Throw in Markel Smart's four 3-pointers and 24 points and those two were only 16 points shy of West Virginia's entire team scoring total.
Shoot, the Cowboys didn't even need much of a contribution from the two McDonald's All-Americans in their lineup. Forward Le'Bryan Nash had just two points and five rebounds and freshman point guard Marcus Smart turned the ball over seven times.
But with Forte and Brown shooting lights out from long range - OSU would finish 10 for 19 on 3s, 10 of 17 from those two - it was enough to swing any momentum West Virginia had while dominating the game early and building a 13-point lead.
"It's all about getting the moment,'' said Kilicli, who had perhaps his best game of the season against a quality opponent with 12 points, five rebounds, two blocks and two assists before fouling out with 61/2 minutes to play. "And that's what we had for the first 15 minutes.''
Indeed, in building a 24-11 lead over the Cowboys, West Virginia appeared to have something going. Just as was the case against TCU Wednesday night, defense was carrying the Mountaineers.
In that 71-50 win over TCU, West Virginia's defensive effort fell off after a while, too. But the Horned Frogs weren't good enough to take advantage. Oklahoma State was.
After falling behind 24-11, the Cowboys outscored WVU 44-16 to take a 15-point second-half lead and never looked back.
It began when Forte was left alone for the first time and made his first 3, followed quickly by an OSU steal on an inbounds pass. To that point, West Virginia had put on a defensive clinic. In one prolonged stretch that lasted almost 12 minutes, OSU had 16 possessions and failed to score on 14 of them.
But just as quickly - much quicker, in fact - the momentum swung 180 degrees. With those two plays. It ignited the Cowboys, who finished the half on a 19-3 run and took a 30-27 lead. At one point after falling behind 24-11, OSU outscored the Mountaineers 44-16.
West Virginia has no time to dwell on this loss. On Monday, the Mountaineers play their first of three ESPN Big Monday games this season, a home game against No. 3 Kansas.
The schedule lightens up just a bit after that with four of the next five games against TCU, Texas and Texas Tech (twice), but the stretch also includes three of four games on the road at one point.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
OKLAHOMA STATE 80, WEST VIRGINIA 66
West Virginia (9-10, 2-4)
M FG FT R A P
Deniz Kilicli 28 4-6 4-6 5 2 12
Kevin Noreen 9 1-2 0-0 1 0 2
Jabarie Hinds 20 2-9 0-0 1 1 5
Eron Harris 30 6-10 0-0 1 0 17