Escaping the impeding blizzard with a trip to Morgantown, the Oklahoma Sooners overcame an ice cold shooting start to complete the season sweep of the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Winning 91-90 in double overtime, the Sooners made their case to jump back into the top 10 by dispatching the No. 14 Mountaineers in the WVU Coliseum.
A go-ahead bucket from Austin Reaves and unlikely blocks from Kur Kuath and Jalen Hill in the final moments of the second overtime sealed a hard fought win for Oklahoma.
"(Reaves) was unbelievably good," Lon Kruger said in his on-court interview after the game. "Such a good competitor. He's attacking all the time, a lot of confidence and guys have a lot of confidence in him."
OU struggled with West Virginia’s length at times in the first half, as the Sooners were held to 39 percent shooting from the field on 13-of-33 shooting. Settling too often for 3’s, Kruger’s team fired 12 shots from deep, only making three in the first half.
On defense, the Sooners struggled to contain Mountaineer big man Derek Culver. Culver almost logged a double-double in the first half, scoring 13 of West Virginia’s 31 first half points and pulling down nine rebounds.
"It would have been great to get a board there," Kruger said in his post game video press conference. "We couldn't seem to get one even on the second or third try.
"That well could have cost us the ballgame. We've got to do a better job of sticking our nose in there and getting more contact, more physical on the boards and trying to come down with one."
Down 18-10 halfway through the first half, OU got a spark with Alondes Williams’ reintroduction to the lineup. After missing three games due to COVID-19, the senior scored four quick points to tie the game and tilt the momentum back in OU’s direction.
With time winding down in the first half, De’Vion Harmon drove the lane but had the ball stripped from him by Miles McBride. McBride made up a half-court heave as time expired to send the game into halftime tied.
Out of the break, Reaves took over for the Sooners.
Attacking the basket off the dribble over and over, Reaves scored 22 of his 28 points in the second half and overtimes. He also added nine rebounds and seven assists on the afternoon.
"(Reaves) wants the ball in late game situations, doesn't shy away from anything," Kruger said.
Umoja Gibson was Robin to Reaves' Batman, sinking 5-of-10 from 3 to finish with 21 points.
"He's been great for a long time," Kruger said. "He's played well. He's consistently probably a guy who's put up good numbers every night."
Then, Sean McNeil took over for the hosts.
Scoring 13 straight points for West Virginia, McNeil brought the Mountaineers from down nine all the way back into the lead.
"You got to always think that they're going to make a run, and especially with a player like (McNeil)," Reaves said.
A back-and-forth three minutes set the stage for a nip-and-tuck final 60 seconds.
With 21 seconds on the clock and the Sooners trailing 72-70, Gibson hit a runner off the right elbow to tie the game up, eventually sending the contest to overtime.
"(Gibson's) got all the confidence in the world in himself and we got the same thing," Reaves said. "We believe in him to make plays."
Reaves credited the team's mentality for so many different guys stepping up down the stretch.
"The purpose is to win," he said. "We've got to keep having that same mentality."
Harmon came alive in the overtime period. Scoring five of his 11 points in the extra period, Harmon hit a huge go-ahead 3 with 1:35 left to put the Sooners back up by two.
West Virginia was able to tie the game and force a second overtime off of six second-chance points, including Jalen Bridges’ game-tying layup after he pulled down the Mountaineers' 13th offensive rebound.
The Sooners overcame a massive effort by Culver in the second overtime. Scoring seven points in the final overtime period alone, Culver finished with a career-high 29 points and 14 rebounds.
Resourceful drives by Elijah Harkless, Harmon and Reaves all gave the OU the lead despite Culver’s late explosion.
However, it was McBride’s layup over Kuath with 40.5 seconds left put the Sooners in another one-point hole late.
On the ensuing possession, Reaves’ behind-the-back crossover created the space for him to pull up and sink an uncontested jumper at the free throw line to put the Sooners back in front by one point with 26.9 seconds left.
"He's a great player," senior forward Brady Manek said. "I would give him the ball every time if I could."
Bob Huggins trusted Culver with the game hanging in the balance, but Kuath stood tall and rejected the Mountaineer star’s drive with seven seconds left, handing OU back the ball.
"Honestly I think he's one of the best shot blockers in the country," Reaves said of Kuath. "I looked at him when he was coming out of the timeout and I just told him to go get one.
"To make a play like that is really, really big for us."
Still, nothing came easy for Oklahoma. As OU inbounded the ball, the Mountaineers tied up Harmon, giving possession back to West Virginia. The Sooners nearly stole the inbounds pass, but Gibson couldn’t hold on to the ball and West Virginia retained possession with 3.5 seconds left on the clock and a chance to win the game.
Culver caught the ball under the basket, but Hill blocked his layup attempt. Culver got the rebound and then misfired off the backboard as time expired to seal an epic Sooner win and hand OU sole control of second place in the Big 12 standings.
The Sooners return to Lloyd Noble Center at 8 p.m. Tuesday to host the Texas Longhorns in what is shaping up to be another top-15 battle.
"Coming out of a game like this and coming out with a win, it kind of brings your spirits up," Manek said. "You don't want to fight those and come out with a loss.
"It makes us a lot better, it makes us tougher. We can learn from it and just get ready for the next one."