The West Virginia Mountaineers have a unique opportunity when they begin conference tournament play on Thursday as they will face the Oklahoma State Cowboys just five days after meeting them in Morgantown on March 6.
West Virginia (18-8, 11-6 Big 12) is looking to avenge its loss that it suffered against Oklahoma State (18-7, 11-7 Big 12) in its regular season finale when the Cowboys defeated the Mountaineers, 85-80, at the WVU Coliseum. In the previous meeting, Oklahoma State was without the Big 12 Player of the Year and the Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Cade Cunningham.
“Obviously, Cade Cunningham is a great player,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said. “MVP in the league and he’s the real deal. When you have a player like that, you have somebody to go to. The other guys played really well. (Oklahoma State head coach) Mike (Boynton) did a really good job getting those guys ready to play, contrary to what we did.”
Strong defense has not been one of the main features of this West Virginia team throughout the season. Against the Cowboys, the Mountaineers had one of their worst defensive performances of the year.
Oklahoma State finished the game shooting 58% from the field and outrebounded WVU, 38-29. In the second half, OSU shot 18-of-28 (64%) from the floor. The Cowboys attacked the rim with ease as they shot 22-of-32 (69%) on layups.
Prior to the final two games of the regular season, the Mountaineers relied on the hot shooting from junior guard Sean McNeil. McNeil had his struggles knocking down three-pointers in the final games of the year, as he shot a combined 2-of-14 (14%) in the last two games.
Against Oklahoma State, WVU had its worst three-point shooting performance since it went 2-of-21 (9%) against Northeastern on Dec. 29. Against the Cowboys, the Mountaineers shot 5-of-24 (21%) from behind the arc.
For the season, West Virginia is the second-best three-point shooting team in the Big 12 — Baylor is No. 1 — at a 36% shooting average.
Cunningham enters the Big 12 Tournament as the leading-scorer in the Big 12 with 19.7 points per game. He also ranks ninth in the conference in rebounding with 6.3 per game.
Without Cunningham on March 6, sophomore guard Avery Anderson scored a career-high 31 points against West Virginia. Anderson is the only other player than Cunningham on the OSU roster averaging double-digits this season.
The Cowboys will test West Virginia’s three-point shooting ability as they rank No. 2 in the Big 12 in three-point defense, only allowing opponents to shoot 32% from behind the arc. In the two meetings with OSU, West Virginia shot a combined 14-of-48 (29%) from three-point range.
Huggins expects the Mountaineers to bring their best, now that postseason play is starting.
“It’s one-and-done,” Huggins said. “You lose, you’re done. You can’t come out and be flat. You have to bring your best game every time out. Otherwise, you’re back home watching it on TV.”
Tipoff is set for 11:30 a.m. in the quarterfinal round of the 2021 Phillips 66 Men’s Big 12 Basketball Conference Tournament. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN/ESPN2.