Brandon Knapper breaks out as WVU beats Oklahoma
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — On a day where a groundhog predicted an early spring, West Virginia basketball fans got the opposite, a little sunshine.
While Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow on a cloudy day in that part of 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 of Knapper’s breakout game. “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 grabbed 14 rebounds in his first start for the Mountaineers (10-12, 2-7 Big 12). 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 its past 10 games.
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 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 coach Lon Kruger. “Obviously, it’s pretty clear that boards were the biggest difference. They had their way with us inside.”
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.”