MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – When you go on the road in the Big 12 Conference, the chances of losing increase.
When the chances of losing increase, every possession and play is crucial.
When every possession and play is crucial, the home team has the edge in intangibles.
When the home team has the edge in intangibles, the visiting team typically needs atypical heroics.
Oklahoma State got atypical heroics from Marcus Smart and Markel Brown Saturday to escape the Coliseum with a 73-72 victory over West Virginia. The 11th-ranked Cowboys, who lost a week ago at Kansas State to open Big 12 play, won a game they couldn’t afford to lose.
“There were many moments where this game could have slipped away from us,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “We made a few big plays and I am proud of our team for hanging in there.”
Brown’s 3-pointer with 11.9 seconds remaining erased a two-point deficit. Smart drove to the free throw line, then passed to Brown on the left wing in front of the Oklahoma State bench. Brown reset with a pump fake as a defender flew past before he played some beautiful string music for the Cowboys (14-2, 2-1).
"We would have taken anything," Ford said. "A play was drawn up to try to get the ball into the paint. There was a couple different options off of the play. We were going to take whatever shot the defense gave us.”
“I did expect to get it,”Brown said. “I got it like the two times before that, I missed a shot and passed up one. I knew it was going to be open again. I put a lot of confidence in that shot.”
Brown finished with 12 points and had missed a trio of 3-point attempts before pulling the trigger on the game winner. He had missed his last 12 attempts from behind the arc. Maybe that’s why Brown had passed up an open three on the Cowboys’ previous possession.
''Right when he did, I told him don't pass up another shot,'' Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. ''And it just so happened he got another look.''
Smart had his second consecutive double-double with 22 points and a career-high 13 rebounds. He had six offensive rebounds; his teammates had seven. His follow shot with 3:31 gave Oklahoma State a 70-67 lead.
“We’re standing on the foul line and all we had to do was block them out,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “We didn’t even think about blocking out someone (Smart) who is probably a first team All-American. We just stood there. I don’t know how you do that, but we did.”
West Virginia point guard Juwan Staten, who is having a fantastic season, had two chances to win the game for the Mountaineers. He couldn’t convert two challenging layups – one with 28 seconds remaining, the other with four seconds left – that preceded and followed Brown’s 3-pointer.
"It came down to them making the shot and us missing it," West Virginia guard Eron Harris said.
Staten finished with 20 points, five rebounds and eight assists. With West Virginia trailing 70-67, Staten assisted on a Devin Williams layup and a Terry Henderson 3-pointer to give the Mountaineers a 72-70 lead with 1:17 remaining.
With the largest crowd (12,078) of the season in WVU Coliseum, the home team gave the faithful plenty to cheer about. The Mountaineers controlled the pace in the first half and twice pulled away to seven-point leads.
Oklahoma State didn’t take its first lead until early in the second half when the Cowboys were able to speed up the game. After committing just three fouls in the first 20 minutes, Oklahoma State was able to apply pressure to frazzle and disrupt West Virginia.
“At halftime we changed some things and were able to get West Virginia off balance,” Ford said. “Overall I think we just played better in the second half than we did in the first. I believe the second half was one of the better halves of basketball we have played this season in terms of making adjustments.”
West Virginia is 10-6 overall and 2-1 in Big 12 play. The Mountaineers have nonconference losses to Wisconsin, Purdue, Missouri and Gonzaga; a victory over Oklahoma State would have helped an NCAA resume that currently lacks gravitas.
“Once again we lost a game that we had,” Harris said. “We almost had it. Everybody is seeing that we can beat these teams. Every big game we have, we almost win.”
Kansas, selected as co-favorites with Oklahoma State in the preseason, defended its home court, blasting Kansas State Saturday, 86-60. Iowa State fell from the ranked of unbeaten with an 87-82 loss at Oklahoma. In the first Big Monday game, Kansas plays at Iowa State.
“The big thing I told our guys is that this needs to hurt; we gave away a golden opportunity,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said after his team’s loss in Norman. “Kansas is the longest and most athletic team in our league and they are playing good basketball. They did something we couldn’t do. They came in here and won.”
Traveling in the Big 12 isn’t just a turnover on the court; it’s one of the biggest challenges for contenders.