With 16 minutes to go, West Virginia trailed Arkansas by 19 points. With 12 left, the Mountaineers trailed by just five.
Bob Huggins’s basketball squad battled the Razorbacks for 40 minutes in Fayetteville, but the hosts ended up taking a 77-68 victory over the Mountaineers in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday.
“I’m proud of our guys, I’m proud of our guys. We’re down 19 against a good basketball team at their place, and we competed,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “We had a chance.”
Arkansas earned a wire-to-wire victory over WVU behind the second-best scoring outing of the season from Au’Diesse Toney, leading the game with 19 points. 11 of those points came in the second half as he missed just one field goal in the final 20 minutes.
Although the Razorbacks never gave up the lead, WVU threatened it for the duration of the contest. Arkansas would build as much as an 11-point lead in the first half, but WVU would claw right back — whittling it down to three possessions in several cases.
Arkansas came out of halftime and dominated West Virginia, however. The Razorbacks went on a 12-4 run out of the locker room to get out to the game-high 19-point lead, led by a pair of inside baskets from Toney.
That massive deficit woke the Mountaineers up, though, as they responded with a 16-4 run led by Keddy Johnson, who scored eight of those 16 points. That swing brought WVU within five points — its smallest deficit since the first five minutes of the game.
“We didn’t score a couple possessions that I thought maybe we had a chance to score on to get it even closer…and we ran out of gas,” Huggins said. “You’re asking guys to run around and double-team and trap and try to force the plays at one end, and then say, ‘Hey by the way, run off of these three screens and get open and make a shot.’ It’s hard. It’s not easy.”
Johnson finished the game with a team-high 18 points for West Virginia.
Unfortunately for WVU, the Razorbacks quickly expanded their lead back to double-digits when Toney helped his team score eight straight points. That gave Arkansas enough of a cushion that allowed the hosts to hold WVU off.
“I think we’re closer and closer to being a pretty good team,” Huggins said. “We’ve got some guys that have got to stop thinking me first and team second, to be honest with you.”
The Mountaineers struggled with inside play. Arkansas dominated the glass, out-rebounding WVU 44-29, while scoring 36 of its 77 points in the paint. WVU got just 15 points from his bigs, 13 of which were scored by Jalen Bridges (6) and Gabe Osabuohien (7).
This game was a homecoming for Osabuohien. The senior forward transferred to West Virginia before the 2019-20 season and became a Mountaineer fan favorite in the three seasons since. He fouled out of the contest with 4:57 remaining, but not before grabbing three rebounds.
Taz Sherman, WVU’s leading scorer for the season, finished with 15 points and four boards.
Jaylin Williams notched a double-double for Arkansas, finishing with 12 points and 15 rebounds. Stanley Umude (12 points) and JD Notae (15) also had double-figure games for the Razorbacks.
The Mountaineers have lost five straight, and they take their second loss in a row in the Big 12/SEC Challenge as they fall to 13-7 on the season.
WVU doesn’t get much of a break, however. Next up, they head to Waco, Texas to face the 4th-ranked Baylor Bears.