The Mountaineers struggled to find interior scoring, couldn’t rebound effectively out of the 1-3-1 when it was most needed and, once again, couldn’t quite find enough on either end to pull a much-needed upset. Devin Williams, especially, struggled on the inside. The 6-9 freshman’s lack of vertical jumping ability was even more glaring against a highly athletic OSU team that used a four-forward, one-guard lineup led by 6-7 swingman Le’Bryan Nash, who converted on 10 of 13 shots from the floor for 29 points. Williams routinely struggled on putback attempts and seemed swallowed up even by shorter Oklahoma State forwards. Williams was often forced into a running hook shot to get off attempts, and, on one possession, missed three point blank tries before the Cowboys took possession.
As head coach Bob Huggins has noted, there really isn’t any alternative. Nathan Adrian is in the mold of an outside shooter, Brandon Watkins lacks polish and Kevin Noreen simply isn’t an offensive threat. The Mountaineers will have to rely upon Williams who has a solid skillset of spins and dropsteps and is a reliable jump shooter. But when trying to bang with lengthy foes, his lack of explosion is a major hamstring in an offense that must hit shots to have a chance in any game.
Frankly, the Mountaineers couldn’t have mustered a better setup. They were tied at 60-60 on the road against the No. 11 team in the nation with arguably the Big 12’ss marquee player, Marcus Smart, in serious foul trouble throughout. But Nash took over, going around and jumping over Williams and Eron Harris for eight straight points, including consecutive traditional three-point plays, to give Oklahoma State a 68-60 advantage. Nash was challenged at the rim effort-wise, but neither Williams nor Noreen could handle the slashing, jumping ability of the YEAR. As per the blueprint, West Virginia pulled back into the game on a pair of Harris threes to get within a possession before giving up a jumper and lay-up for a 75-67 deficit inside two minutes.
The Mountaineers actually won the rebounding battle, 41-35, and gained 14 offensive boards to just 11 for OSU. But there’s little question the Cowboys had a major advantage in athleticism and absolutely took advantage of superior talent in the paint. WVU should have some additional ability next season with Elijah Macon (6-9, 250 lbs.) and Jonathan Holton (6-7, 210 lbs.), a player all teammates call a high energy guy who boosts the overall play around him. But with games against premier inside talent like that at Kansas and the overall size differential with foes like Texas, it’s unfathomable to imagine West Virginia finishing in the top half of league play, especially if it has to overcome the up-and-down play of Terry Henderson.
The sophomore continued his rollercoaster-like performances, missing nine of 10 shots, including all five from three-point range, just one game after setting a career-high with 28 points on 10 of 13 shooting. There might not be a player more capable of carrying a team, but less capable of finding consistency. Henderson’s Jekyll and Hyde act is made worse by WVU’s reliance upon him as one of two players able of making enough threes to offset the interior problems. He and Harris – who was one of four Mountaineers to foul out – will have to combine with Juwan Staten to carry the scoring load. Huggins can’t center a game plan around Henderson until he sees which version will show up during a given game. And not being able to rely upon your players for their very best asset is as big an albatross as there is.
The Mountaineers appear to have a solid chance of winning the next game, at Baylor on the road. The Bears are floundering after a hot start, losing their last four, including a 74-60 blowout today at home to Texas to fall to 1-5 in league play. But West Virginia has to get a better overall showing from Henderson, and Williams needs to at last manage some point production in the paint. Problem is, neither of those things is a given, and they are among the most prevalent of a handful of reasons that this team seems to be able to challenge the nation’s elite, but never defeat them. It appears to be a season-long problem at this point, and that problem could well shorten any hopes of reasonable postseason play.