On a day where a groundhog predicted an early spring, West Virginia basketball fans got the opposite, a little sun shine.
While Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow on a cloudy day in Pennsylvania, Brandon Knapper came off the bench to score a career-high 25 points to lead West Virginia over Oklahoma 79-71 on Saturday.
“I think we’ve all been waiting on it,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “His problem has been ball security. He’s thrown the ball everywhere. He did a good job today under some tough circumstances.”
Derek Culver scored 13 points and pulled 14 rebounds in his first start for the Mountaineers (10-12, 2-7 Big 12 Conference). Wesley Harris added 13 points as well. Knapper had six of the eight free throws for the Mountaineers in the final 33 seconds. Culver had the other two as he and Knapper combined for West Virginia’s final 16 points for its second win in 10 games in 2019.
Walk-on Trey Doomes made two free throws to cap an 8-0 run as West Virginia capped a back-and-forth first half with a 33-26 lead.
The Mountaineers kept a two-possession cushion for most of the second half, until a flurry of West Virginia fouls led to repeated trips to the line for the Sooners to close the gap.
Oklahoma (15-7, 3-6) went more than 6½ minutes without scoring from the field but hit 13 free throws to cut the Mountaineer lead down to as little as one with six minutes to play.
Knapper had 10 points and Culver 6 in the last 3½ minutes.
“Knapper has been going through some ups-and-downs, but I kind of expected that,” Esa Ahmad said. “He was big down the stretch tonight”.
Ahmad had added 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Mountaineers, his first double-double of the season.
Brady Manek led the Sooners with 18 points, Aaron Calixte added 17 and Kristian Doolittle pulled 12 rebounds.
“Tough battle,” Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger. “Obviously, it’s pretty clear that boards were the biggest difference. They had their way with us inside.”
Oklahoma: Sooners leading scorer Christian James has struggled from the field over the last two games, going a combined 3 of 19 from the field against Baylor and West Virginia. He was just 1 of 10 from the field, missing all four of his 3-pointers, but was 8 of 8 from the foul line.
West Virginia: Esa Ahmad has scored in double figures for his third-straight game. The Mountaineers pounded the boards for a 46-30 advantage, which helped lead to a 27-9 advantage in second-chance points.
Players from West Virginia’s 1958-59 Final Four team were back in Morgantown to celebrate their 60th anniversary.
Among those in attendance were Willie Akers, Jay Jacobs, Howie Schertzinger and former NBA great Jerry West.
Kruger talked with West before the game.
“It was great,” Kruger said. “A lot of people grew up watching him play at the highest of levels and handle everything he’s done in his career with great class. He’s terrific.”
Christian James has struggled from the field in the Sooners’ last two games, with 18 points total against Baylor and West Virginia, but 11 of those coming from the foul line.
“Hes’s not making shots as he did earlier in the year,” Kruger said. “I think a lot of it is confidence. Seeing one or two go down would help him.”
James is a microcosm of what Oklahoma has struggled with these past two games, shooting 34 percent from the field.
Oklahoma hosts No. 20 Iowa State on Monday.
West Virginia hits the road to take on No. 16 Texas Tech on Monday.