Knapper’s 25 leads WVU to 79-71 upset of Oklahoma
MORGANTOWN — Having lost its last three games by double digits, the West Virginia University men’s basketball team went into Saturday’s Groundhog Day matinee as decided underdogs against visiting Oklahoma.
But Brandon Knapper and the Mountaineers showed that they weren’t scared of their own shadow. With WVU legend Jerry West in attendance, Knapper rifled in a career-high 25 points and led West Virginia to just its second conference win, defeating the Sooners 79-71.
Knapper entered the game averaging just 4.5 points in his freshman season and had struggled to consistently hit from the outside. But on Saturday, Knapper shot the ball with zero hesitation. The former South Charleston High School standout shot 4 of 6 from 3-point range, fearlessly taking command of West Virginia’s offense in crucial moments.
“All week I’ve been in the gym and the coaches have been telling me they want me to play with confidence,” Knapper said. “It’s exactly what we needed, and that’s exactly what I went out there to do today. Play with confidence.”
West Virginia led the entirety of the second half, but when Oklahoma threatened late, it was Knapper who took charge. Knapper scored 10 points in the final two minutes, including seven free throws, guiding the Mountaineers home.
Meanwhile, another freshman, big man Derek Culver, led an assault on the boards that helped cement the victory. Dominating a size mismatch against 6-foot-7 Oklahoma center Kristian Doolittle, Culver, making his first start of the season, pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds as West Virginia outrebounded Oklahoma 46-30.
Senior Esa Ahmad also snatched a career-high 13 rebounds, including several clutch offensive rebounds late. West Virginia’s control of the offensive glass turned into a 27-9 advantage on second-chance points, which proved to be a crucial difference.
“Esa was terrific, Wes (Harris) had a great spurt for us whenever we were struggling a little bit, and you almost expect it from Derek right now,” Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins said.
In one of West Virginia’s most complete performances of the season, the Mountaineers turned in one of their better defensive showings.
Harris hounded Oklahoma star Christian James all game, harassing the Big 12′s fourth-leading scorer into 10 points on 1 of 10 shooting from the field.
And with the game hanging in the balance, West Virginia threw in a defensive wrinkle: a 3-2 zone that helped stifle Oklahoma just enough to hang on. Huggins placed the 6-10 Culver at the top of the defense, disturbing the Sooners with his size and length and taking away the entry pass.
“First of all, we played hard and fought through screens,” Culver said. “I feel like we disguised our 3-2, which put them in a funk a little bit. Once we did that, that kind of sped them up a little bit. Our 3-2 really confused them.”
The win moves West Virginia to 10-12 on the season and 2-7 in the Big 12. The Mountaineers are next scheduled to take the floor on Monday night when they travel to face No. 16 Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas.