Thunder star wants to talk with the NCAA

(Photo by TorreyPurvey.com)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – Carmelo Anthony doesn’t like the state of college athletics. In fact, the Oklahoma City forward is so exasperated, he would like to have a sit down with NCAA officials and hear exactly what is on their mind.

“I would love to sit down with the NCAA and just hear their thought process, hear what they’re thinking, hear what’s their future,” Anthony said Tuesday. “I am all for the athletes. I think we have to future out something for college as a whole.”

Anthony, who played one year at Syracuse, didn’t hold back when he was asked about the controversy currently surrounding the NCAA. When it turned to the ongoing debate on whether athletes should be paid, he had plenty to say.

“It’s easy for me to say that I think the players should get paid, yes. How they get paid, I think that’s something to be figured out,” Anthony said. “I think it will only get figured out if the NCAA wants it to get figured out. If they don’t want it figured out, then it won’t get figured out. Then you’re going to continue having these issues, having these problems. College basketball will go down. Guys are not going to go to college. Then it’s going to force the NBA to step up and kind of take the age limit off.”

Anthony admits he doesn’t have the answers how to pay athletes. He just knows the current system and the rules are not fair for the young men and women who are making billions for the NCAA.

“College athletes period need to be compensated,” Anthony said. “You have to think about a 16-year old kid, a 17-year old kid going to college. Yeah, they get a free education if they get a scholarship. But how are they surviving on those campuses? A lot of them cant afford food. They get in trouble for taking $10, $20. So many small things go along with that.”

Anthony, who has never shied from offering his opinion on the most heated topics, believes the NCAA is heading for a doomsday if they can’t come up with a system that is fair for everyone involved.

“I would tell my son to go to college,” Anthony said. “But, with that being said, you’re going to start seeing a lot more players looking at the opportunity to go play overseas. You’re going to start seeing guys maybe forgoing their senior year of high school and start trying to get to the G-League. You are going to start seeing these different leagues throughout the world become more powerful because of what the NCAA is doing.”

Yet, Anthony does seem to see a small light at the end of the tunnel and thinks the problems can be worked out. But he is not hopeful.
“It has to be a collective effort between the NCAA, the NBA, just basketball as a whole,” Anthony said. “The NCAA and amateur sports have been corrupt for so long. We all know that. Whether you get caught doing it or not, it is what it is. I don’t have the answers. Obviously, no one has the answers right now. But something has to be done.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

No. 1 Oklahoma dismantles WVU

By Michael Kinney

The West Virginia gymnastics team knew it had its work cut out for it. Traveling halfway across the country to take on No. 1 Oklahoma was not going to be an easy task.

In order to knock off the Sooners, the Mountaineers were not only going to have to be at their best but also get a little lucky and get an OU squad that wasn’t on top of its game.

Even though WVU had a solid performance, it wasn’t enough to take down the Sooners. Oklahoma won, 198.025-195.750, Feb. 23, at the Lloyd Noble Center, in their final Big 12 dual meet of the regular season.

“I think we are just building our depth right now,” OU coach K.J. Kindler said. “I think a 198 is a benchmark score, a great score. There is no doubt about it. We’re focused on showing our landings off and making sure that we are getting better and better every week. We definitely think that we are in a good place right now.”

The Mountaineers are 0-10 against the Sooners since 2013 and 1-15 all-time.

WVU moved to 7-7 on the season. However, the Mountaineers have struggled when taking on teams ranked in the top 25, going 0-6.

“You know Jason always does a great job of telling us to stay in the West Virginia bubble,” associate head coach Travis Doak said of head coach Jason Butts. “I think our team does a great job of competing regardless of who we compete against. It could be No. 1, it could be No. 50. We just have to do our gymnastics and we did that tonight.”

WVU began the night on the bars. Jaquie Tun posted a 9.750 — the highest of any Mountaineer. As a team, WVU scored a 48.300.

“We started out a little bit rough on bars,” Doak said. “There is some work to do there. But I think as a coach you want to see them rally after some adversity.”

However, the Sooners’ 49.550 on the vault gave them a solid lead after the first rotation.

WVU came back strong on the vault. Led by Kirah Koshinski, who is ranked 11th in the nation on the vault, they totaled a season-high 49.325. Koshinski had a team-high score of 9.950 while Robyn Bernard added a 9.925.

“We struggled a little bit on bars, but we really brought it back on vault,” Koshinski said. “It was such a confidence booster. Once we got it going there, energy started to pick up a little bit.”

After two rotations, the Mountaineers found themselves behind, 99.025- 97.625.

In its previous outing, WVU also trailed after the first two rotations before storming back to win the meet.

This time the Mountaineers were facing the two-time defending champion and the chances of the Sooners falling apart and making it easy on the Mountaineers was remote.

WVU went to the floor routine and saw its first three competitors all score around 9.7.

However, Chloe Cluchey, Tun and Koshinski each scored a 9.850 to close out the set and help the Mountaineers post a 49.100.

But, once again, the Sooners were just a little better on the beam. They put up a 49.600 to take a 148.625-146.725 advantage into the final routine.

The Mountaineers closed out the evening on the balance beam. Despite Carly Galpin racking up 9.875, they were unable to gain any ground on the Sooners.

All but one member of the Oklahoma floor unit scored at least a 9.8. Maggie Nichols led the way with a 9.950 on her way to securing the all-around title for the Sooners.

Oklahoma is off until March 3 when they host Big 10 powerhouse Michigan at Lloyd Noble Center. OU is hoping to bring out a great crowd for the meet.

“The crowd tonight was really good,” Oklahoma’s Natalie Brown said. “We feed off the energy. We want everyone in Norman to come out to our meets because we work really hard in the gym and we want to show them what we’ve been doing. We’re the number one ranked team so that should be the reason they should come out and watch us.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Mayfield stays true to himself

By Michael Kinney

NORMAN — When Baker Mayfield walked to midcourt during a timeout at the Oklahoma-Texas basketball game Saturday, it was supposed to just simple welcome home from the fans.  Mayfield hadn’t been in front of the OU fan base since the Sooners lost to Georgia Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl.

It’s been a crazy journey, hasn’t stopped,” Mayfield said. “This is the first time I’ve been back to Norman, actually. Since the Senior Bowl I’ve been training hard, getting ready for the (NFL) combine, setting up my schedule for interviews and whatnot, going forward after Pro Day. It’s a long process, a waiting game. You guys know me, I’d rather play ball. So I’m excited to get through this process and get back to it.”

Carrying his Heisman trophy, Mayfield did all the things expected of him. Took photos with coach Lincoln Riley, watched the highlight video and thanked the fans.

Then Mayfield showed what exactly has made him one of the most popular Oklahoma athletes to ever come through Norman. He handed off the Heisman and started waving his arms to get the crowd pumped. He then headed straight toward the Texas bench while putting up the upside down Longhorn hand sign in full view of the players and coaches.

That one gesture encapsulated exactly who Mayfield has been for the past three years since transferring to Oklahoma from Texas Tech. He loves the Sooner unabashedly and hates the Longhorns in the same manner and doesn’t care who knows it.

I was born and raised in Austin, they didn’t recruit me,” Mayfield said of UT. “I grew up 15 miles from the campus. I can’t stand them, or anything they do. I don’t care.”

Mayfield is a state of Texas native. Went to school at Lake Travis High, but didn’t get an offer from any school in Texas. While OU also didn’t offer Mayfield a scholarship at the time, it was the Longhorns who he held the grudge against.

Mayfield was asked during a press conference he held at halftime of the OU-Texas game. The Austin based reporter asked him why does he like to “give Texas the business.”

Mayfield looked at him like he just asked the most obvious question in the world before giving his response.

What makes Mayfield one of the most interesting quarterbacks to have come on the scene in a long time is his refusal to be someone he is not. That apparently has been a topic of conversation around the league.

“I talked to the NFL guys that say I need to calm down a little bit,” Mayfield said. “But when it comes to Texas, absolutely not. I can’t stand them.”

While Texas will always be his main antagonist, Mayfield is all set to join the ranks of the NFL and find some new foes.

However, Mayfield has had to not only answer questions about his ability on the field, but also perceived attitude issues. But Mayfield said he went into the interviews at the Senior Bowl with the conscious effort to not be someone he isn’t.

I learned that’s the best way to be,” Mayfield said. “Those guys had a lot of questions about my character, everything like that. So when I sat down and had conversations with guys that make decisions on putting millions of dollars — they’re in control of those franchises. They have to invest in young guys and they don’t know exactly what they’re going to get. So being honest and up front with those people was the best thing for me. That’s what I learned so I’m going to keep doing that.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

 

Slump continues for Sooners

By Michael Kinney

NORMAN– Oklahoma is in a funk. There is no simpler way to put it.

Entering Saturday’s rematch with Texas, the Sooners had dropped five of their last six games since beating Kansas Jan. 23. That included four straight defeats.

But if any team was going to rouse the Sooners out of their slumber, it would be the Longhorns, who had already knocked Oklahoma earlier in the month.

However, even the heat of Red River Rivalry wasn’t enough to shake loose the cobwebs as Oklahoma fell 77-66 to Texas Saturday at Lloyd Noble Center.

The loss is only the second defeat at home this season. However, both have come in their past two games in Norman.

“I think the crowd was ready to get into it but we didn’t give them enough reason,” OU coach Lon Kruger said. “Same in the second half, we just couldn’t quite get the lead — down three, down one — we just couldn’t quite give them that reason to get it going a little more. The crowd certainly tried to do their part.”

The tailspin that has taken over the Sooners season has watched them go from one of the most exciting teams in the country to fans wondering if the team can hold on to what was a sure NCAA tournament bid.

Player of the year candidate Trae Young had a solid game by most players standards. But the 26 points (7 of 21), 5 rebounds and 7 assists are far below what has become expected of the freshman phenom.

“When you win a game in the Big 12, that’s big,” Young said. “Like I said, the toughest conference in America. I’m getting guarded like nobody else in the country is being guarded. Scouted on like no one else in the country is. It’s a mystery coming out each and every game, trying to figure out how a team is going to guard me and how I’m going to dictate how my team wins.”

Christian James scored 11 points and was the only other OU player to reach double figures in points.

The shooting woes that have plagued Oklahoma during their losing streak was once again their downfall against Texas. As a team they connected on 20 of 65 shots for a 30.8 clip. They also hit only eight of their 30-point attempts.

For whatever reason, the Sooners have turned into a poor shooting team and they haven’t found a way to break out of it.

“We didn’t make shots,” Kruger said. “When you don’t make shots, you don’t quite have the same energy defensively.”

Just like in their first encounter, the Longhorns inside presence had an immediate impact on the contest. Dylan Ostetkowski and Mohamed Bamba attacked the backboards on both ends of the court and out-muscled the Sooners.

But Oklahoma was its own worst enemy in the first half. Midway through the half they were shooting 19 percent from the field.

Despite that, Oklahoma only trailed 32-29 at halftime.

While the Sooners were shooting poor from the field, their one saving grace throughout was their ability to get to the free-throw line. For the game, OU made twice as many shots (18 to 9) from the free throws than Texas.

The Sooners never led in the first half. But in the second half, they had several opportunities to not only tie the game but grab their first lead.

However, bad shots, turnovers kept them from taking advantage of solid defense in the first eight minutes of the half.

The Longhorns extended their advantage to 55-44 with 9:30 left in the game. The Sooners were unable to make a serious threat the rest of the contest.

“It was a ballgame where I thought Texas had more pop from the start,” Kruger said. “I thought they dictated in the first half. We tried to make a little run there in the second half and couldn’t get over the hump. Seemed like we were fighting uphill all day.”

Oklahoma will look to end its five-game losing streak when they travel to Kansas for a big Monday matchup in Lawrence.

“It’s just a process. I mean, it’s a process,” Young said. “And right now, it’s tough. I know no one likes losing, especially us.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamthetruth.com

Signing day not just about sports

By Michael Kinney

Going to college was an important goal for Mustang’s Phillip Baker. But staying in and graduating was an even bigger objective for him.

“You don’t hear about a lot of Native Americans succeeding at that level,” Baker said. “It’s almost like a stereotype for Native Americans to get there and drop out. I don’t want to be one of those people. I want to be one of those people who go through a program and finish. Someone that young kids can look up to.”

Baker is a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Creek and Yuchi tribes. In 2015, only 67 percent of American Indian students graduated from high school compared the national average of 80 percent, according to usnews.com.

So last week when Baker was able to sign his National Letter of Intent to play football at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, he knew just how big the moment was.

“It is truly a blessing to me,” Baker said. I know how many people are able to play at the next level. That number is a lot smaller than those who play at the high school level. It’s just an honor to me and I feel like I can represent both the people from my culture and my family.”

According to Baker, he was sold on the new coaching staff and atmosphere at Southwestern. Also, the tight end will have the opportunity to play basketball for them as well, which was another huge selling point.

“I feel at home with them,” Baker said. “I feel pretty comfortable there. It’s a good way to help pay for my education and getting a degree is what’s really important to me. I feel like it’s the place where I need to be.”

Baker was one of eight Mustang Broncos who signed their NLI on signing day. They included two soccer players in Sarah Bryant (Oklahoma Baptist) and Nikki Lohr (Southern Nazarene), and six football players in Baker, Cooper Meadows (Southwestern College), Johnny Still (Northwestern State), Blake Russell (Central Oklahoma), Drew Rosko (Central Oklahoma and Carlos Thomas (Southern Nazarene).

For the Broncos to have six football players sign on to play in college is something coach Jeremy Dombeck didn’t just gloss over while introducing the players. The numbers show it is a special achievement.

“Less than five percent of high school football players have the opportunity to go on and play at the next level,” Dombeck said. “It is truly a special, special thing. We had 17 seniors and we’re signing six kids. Each of the guys had a huge impact on the program.”

Thomas was one of those players who had an impact on the program. But for one of the top tailbacks in the state, the program had a bigger impact on him.

“These four years at Mustang determined my path for the future,” Thomas said. “Growing up I was a bad kid. I didn’t think football would be a really big factor in my life. But once I came to Mustang, it really set me straight and I found a family and home in football. I believe if I didn’t come to Mustang, I wouldn’t be playing football or anything. I would probably be going down the wrong path just because of the environment I was in. I think God put me in this place for a reason and everything is working out how it is.”

Thomas is looking forward to continuing his football career at SNU, but also prepare for his future.

“I feel like it was a good fit for me. I really like the coaching staff,” Thomas said. “Just a good Christian environment for me. I kind of want to take the path of a pastor and being religiously associated with a college that’s going to help me with that route and on the right path to pursuing that career.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer for Eyeamtruth.com

Cavs restore order since blockbuster trade

(Photo by TorreyPurvey.com)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — The new look Cleveland Cavaliers rolled into Oklahoma City Tuesday night for a nationally televised game. It was an opportunity for the Thunder to continue their streak of having success against the best teams in the NBA.

With Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony back in the lineup after missing two games, Oklahoma City had to like its chances of knocking off the Cavs for the second time this season.

However, LeBron James was not having any of that. Surrounded by a new cast of characters, James led Cleveland to a 120-112 victory over the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“I thought, overall, it was a good game,” Anthony said. “Their guys shot the ball extremely well tonight. We competed for most of the game so we can take that away from it. [It] sucks losing on our home court, but the effort was there, the competitiveness was there. You got to take your hat off to those guys, they shot the ball extremely well tonight.”

James scored 37 points on 14 of 23 shooting. He also racked up to go along with 8 assists and 8 rebounds. The Thunder had no answer for him as he seemed to be playing with a new level of enthusiasm since the trade deadline brought him four new teammates.

“Well, I am the leader of this team and these guys look for me to lead them every night,” James said. “And the group that came in, they want me to be who I am. It’s up to me to go out and do it. That’s what I have been able to do.”

J.R. Smith hit six 3-pointers on his way to 19 points for Cleveland. Newly acquired Jordan Clarkston and Robert hood each scored 14 points while Larry Nance Jr. added 13 points, 9 rebounds and three blocked shots.

“It’s a change of scenery and they’re just trying to take advantage of it,” James said of his new teammates. “For the guys that were here, we’re just trying to make them as comfortable as possible. Make the transition as seamless as possible.”

Paul George led the Thunder with 25 points and six assists. Anthony added 24 points and seven rebounds. While Westbrook looked rusty from his two-game absence, he still posted 21 points and 12 assists.

However, it was Steven Adams who carried the team earlier and was their leading scorer through three quarters. He finished with 22 points and 17 rebounds in 42 minutes of action.

“[I’m] proud of that guy, man. He just keeps getting better,” Josh Huestis said. “I think a lot of people forget how young he is and how much better he is going to keep getting. He is a monster down there. I am proud of him.”

The Thunder got only 20 points from their bench as Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton were the only reserves to score.

“I’m going to have to go look at the film,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Obviously, every time coming down the floor we want to get the best available shot, the best possession. When Carmelo, Russell, Paul and Steven have their opportunities, I want them to take them. I thought we tried to move the ball.”

For Cleveland, the balance of power in the east seems to have been restored since the trade. They head into the All-Star break feeling good about themselves, which was something they weren’t doing a week ago.

“Koby (Altman) did a heck of a job understanding what this team needed,” James said. “It just wasn’t working out for us. He made the changes he felt best fit our team. Then it’s on me to make sure the new guys that come in, that they fit in and make it as seamless as possible. That’s my job. This is the third game in a row my voice is gone. So I am just trying to have communication at an all-time high for us.”

Coach Tyronn Lue had a more simple explanation of Cleveland’s turnaround.

“I think we have to get back to being the hunters, not the hunted,” Lue said.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Sooner guard stands up for Puerto Rico

By Michael Kinney

Gileysa Penzo is not hard to miss. Watch any Oklahoma women’s basketball game, and the redshirt junior stands out from almost every other player on the court.

From her animated reactions to slapping the floor with her hands, Penzo is always looking to carry the Sooners with enthusiasm and sheer joy, even during the toughest times.

“I just wanted to be an impact,” Penzo said. “I wanted to be an impact, even on the court or off the court. I just wanted to reach the people and talk to them and give them energy and be joyful. “

However, that joy was put on hold Sept. 20. That was the day Hurricane Maria hit Penzo’s home. Puerto Rico. At that point, all she could think of was her family, her friends and what they were enduring.

“At the beginning it definitely was tough just not knowing, not being able to come in here to my parents, my family,” Penzo said. “It was tough because Senado was bad and then I didn’t know if they had power or not, if they have water supply or not. So it was tough, especially before the season started. It was hard.

Penzo had every right to be worried. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricanes Maria and Irma totaled $90 billion and $50 billion in damages

The official death toll for Hurricane Maria has been reported at 64 as of Jan. 1. However, several news organizations have estimated that the real count is anywhere from 500 to 1,065.

Experts believe those numbers will continue to rise due to lack of medical care and basic services, such as power and clean water.

Fortunately for Penzo, her family were not any of those who lost their lives to the natural disaster. But that didn’t lessen the impact of watching her home being torn apart and not being able to do anything about it.

“You know that’s really tough when catastrophes happen like that and usually they don’t directly affect you,” said OU senior Gabbi Ortiz. “And knowing that directly affected one of our teammates and her family personally was pretty tough. And it sucks because you can’t really do much. I mean you can donate money and you know she started that fund and everything but it’s just hard seeing that because she’s just worried about her family and you know how much that impacts her while she’s trying to focus on school and basketball, so you know all you can do is be there for her and talk her through and they made it out fine so that was great.”

One of the ways Penzo said she coped was using basketball as a safe haven from the outside world and the news coming out of Puerto Rico.

“My teammates and the staff took such great care of me they always asked how my family was. We pray before every practice, so they always pray for my family and their safety,” Penzo said. “So, just trying to keep that off the court and I come on the court and kind of be like a relief, like a safe place. And then I can worry about it whenever I’m off the court.”

But Penzo didn’t want to hide from the tragedy. Just like when she is on the court, she wanted to have an impact in helping rebuild her home.

So Penzo started a Go Fund to raise money for her former school, which had been severely damaged during the hurricane. Casa Montessori holds a special place in Penzo’s heart she wants to make sure it will be around in the future so it can affect other young girls like it did for her.

“I went to that school from pre-school all the way to sixth grade and my sisters went there, my cousin goes there, and my other cousin also graduated from there,” Penzo said. “So, it’s like a family for us. They’ve always been there. That’s where I first started playing basketball. That’s where I had my first coaches. Just all the teachers there just so involved. Some Montessori schools so they’re just really involved in the students’ life. So I just have so much respect and so much love for them that I just wanted to give back in any way that I can, because they’ve given so much for me and my family.”

Penzo’s efforts didn’t shock Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale.

“No, it didn’t surprise me at all,” Coale said. “She’s a very caring individual and a very involved person. She gets herself invested and she’s invested in our program, she’s invested in our university, she’s invested in her country and her school that she went there. So it didn’t surprise me at all. That’s what we recruit and that’s what we want to be our ambassadors. She’s it.”

Penzo ended up raising $5,000 for Casa Montessori. But she admits it took a while to get going.

“At first I started the fund then I posted it on social media and it was kind of slow at the beginning and then we had our pre-season banquet and coach gave me the opportunity to speak in front of the Stilettos and the Fast Break Club,” Penzo said. “That’s where everything just got going. And I was just so thankful for everybody that just donated and gave their money to a cause for me. Some of them knew me personally, some of them don’t and I’m just so thankful for every single one of them. It filled me up because I felt like I was able to give back to them like I said ’cause they’re just family to me.”

During Christmas break, Penzo had the opportunity to go home to Puerto Rico and check in on her family. Despite it being more than three months since Hurricane Maria hit, the devastation was still evident.

“There was some crazy like light posts, like concrete light posts just split in half,” Penzo said. “There were some designated areas for like waste and there was like zinc roofs there. There were cars that were just messed up. There were trees everywhere.”

Penzo also got a chance to go visit Casa Montessori and see exactly how bad the school had been damaged.

“One thing is that I went back to my elementary school, the one that I raised money for, and it just kind of seemed that the whole second floor was just gone,” Penzo said. “As soon as I got there, obviously, I went in and I say hi to like my family because they’re my family. And there were just all so thankful that I was able to raise that money for them and they’re going to start constructing now in December before the next semester starts.”

Without even knowing it, Penzo also had an impact on the University of Oklahoma campus. Like many around the country, there were those who had no idea that Puerto Rico is part of the United States.

It wasn’t until they learned of Penzo’s story that some began to realize the truth.

“It was crazy how like people on campus that might know that I’m Puerto Rican, they’d be like, ‘Oh wait, is your family okay?’” Penzo said. “And that’s when they kind of came up to me and where like, ‘Wait. Ain’t you from Puerto Rico? How are you doing?’ And it’s kind of like a light bulb went off and they’re like, “Hold on wait. These are like our people too.’ It was crazy to see the reaction from like everybody else that’s not our immediate basketball staff.”

Since Hurricane Maria hit, the eyes of the nation has slowly moved on to other interests. Yet, Puerto Rico is still dealing with the after effects.

But for Penzo, the tragedy is chance for Puerto Rico to show the rest of the United States what they are made of.

“(I want people to see) that we’re strong and we’re going to get back to where we were,” Penzo said. “It’s obviously not going to be the same, but I feel like with the perseverance and like people getting involved as far as celebrities and like programs, like other basketball sports programs that are getting involved with us, we’re going to get back stronger. And I just have so much love for my people from Puerto Rico ’cause they’re just so resilient. And this happened and some people left because their house was just destroyed, but like my family, they said that they were just not going to leave they were going to stay and endure it out and make sure that they take care of our house and our home, and making sure our families were okay.”

Story first appeared in The Sooner Spectator

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Mountaineers too much for Sooners

 

By Michael Kinney

NORMAN, Okla. – Going on the road in the Big 12 is a grind. No matter what arena teams roll into , they know more often than not the game is going to be a battle that comes down to the final possessions.

That was the case for the 19th ranked Mountaineers Monday when they traveled to No. 17 Oklahoma for a rematch with the Sooners. It took a mad defensive scramble in the final seconds for WVU to pull out the 75-73 victory at Lloyd Noble Center.

After losing three straight, the Mountaineers (18-6, 7-4 Big 12) have now won back to back games for the first time since Jan. 9.

For the Sooners, it was their fifth defeat in last seven games as they continue to struggle in the final minutes of close games.

Esa Ahmad hit two free throws to give WVU a 67-63 advantage with 4:51 left in the game. OU’s Trae Young knocked down two free throws to cut the lead back down to three.

Ahmad came right back with a long jumper before he drove down the lane for a rim-shaking dunk.

The teams exchanged baskets and with 2 minutes left in the game the Mountaineers held a 74-69 lead.

WVU came up empty on back to back possessions while the Sooners (16-7, 6-5) were able to score in transition. The lead was cut to 74-73 with 24.3 seconds on the clock.

Oklahoma let the clock run down to 13.1 before fouling Ahmad. The junior hit the first attempt but missed the second. Oklahoma got the rebound and raced up the court without calling a timeout.

Young almost lost the ball before he passed it to Rashard Odomes under the basket. Odomes had a chance to tie the game, but his quick shot was off the mark the buzzer sounded.

“We had the open court for Trae,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said. “I liked what we had. We had the timeout ready to call if we needed it but we talked about before the free throws that if Trae had the open court we wouldn’t call it, and he had a good look, good open court.”

Young, who leads the nation in scoring and assists, scored a game-high 32 points. However, he was held to just one assist in 26 minutes. Huggins gave credit to Javon Carter for slowing down the player of the year candidate.

He’s terrific,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said of Young. “But the guy guarding him is pretty good. He’s not going to play against anyone better than the guy guarding him today. He was the national defensive player of the year for a reason.”

Brady Manek scored 12 points and grabbed 7 rebounds for the Sooners. No one else reached double figures.

Lamont West paced the Mountaineers with 17 points on 5 of 10 shooting. Ahmad and Sagaba Konate each scored 14 points while Carter chipped in with 10 points and eight assists.

The Mountaineers began the contest playing the same type of intense defense they unleashed on the Sooners in their first matchup. That included having Carter and James Bolden attack Oklahoma’s Trae Young with the hard-nosed, physical defense that seemed to rattle him in their earlier matchup.

It was that defense that helped WVU go on a 12-0 run midway through the first half that put them up 26-16.

West had his way early on offensively. He scored 15 points in the first 10 minutes of the half. 

West Virginia didn’t attempt a single free throw in the first half, but was 8 of 13 from 3-point range as they led the Sooners 50-40 at halftime.

For some reason no one ever fouls us,” Huggins said. “I’m not sure why that is. For some reason we never get fouled so they shot 10 more free throws than us.”

Turnovers continued to plague the Sooners in the second half. The Mountaineers were able to get their hands on the ball in traffic and come up with steals and deflections. As a team, WVU came up with nine steals.

“I mean, I think that’s just how they play. They like to rough up the game, not make the game easy,” Young said. “They just try to play physical. I don’t think anybody else in the country plays like how they play.”

The Sooners couldn’t overcome the turnovers and the missed shots at the rim as they lost for the first time at home this season.

OU will get a few days off before heading to Iowa State Saturday for a 1 p.m. tip-off versus the Clyclones.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

Is it time for the Thunder to make a change?

(Photo by TorreyPurvey.com)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY- When Oklahoma City riding a four-game losing streak, coach Billy Donovan says a change in the starting lineup may be in order as they head into their matchup with Golden State Tuesday.

I don’t know yet, I’m not sure,” Donovan responded to being asked about keeping the starting lineup intact Tuesday. “I just think I have to evaluate. We’ve lost four games in a row. I think my job is to look at what’s best for the team. I’m not saying I’m going to do that, but I think I have to look at all those things right now.”

Oklahoma City’s four-game losing streak ties their longest stretch of the season. All have occurred since the season-ending injury to shooting guard Andre Roberson Jan. 27.

Roberson has been replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Terrance Ferguson. After early success during Roberson’s first injury stint, Ferguson has been unable to get on track. He is currently averaging 2.8 ppg.

I think one of the things that has gone with it is that one of our starters went down in Andre,” Donovan said. “So Terrance, I know everybody was really really thrilled in L.A. when he had the game he had. But I think I made the comment that over a period of time there will be different things he has to go through. It has nothing to do with Terrance. It’s about how do we best work our team now that a guy like Andre is out. What’s the best thing? Is the best thing having Terrance come off the bench? Is it Jerami (Grant), is it Alex (Abrines). Those are things we have to take a look at and bounce around as a staff to try and find the best way to go forward.”

If Ferguson is benched, he will more than likely be replaced by either Grant, Abrines or even Josh Huestis. All provide different skill sets to the team.

Donovan says matchups will go into consideration on who joins Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams in the starting lineup.

“The part of it is the matchup part of it,” Donovan said. “Who is matched up on who? Who is playing against who? That was the one thing about Andre is you never worried about who the other team was playing because he was such an elite defender. He was going to lineup against whoever he was playing against. I think Terrance and Josh (Huestis) have the ability to be really good defensive players. I think they are getting better and improving. But I also think you want to be able to evaluate where the group is at and what’s the best thing for the group.”

But no matter who starts, George says it is up to the veterans on the squad to make the game easier for them.

“I think it’s continuing to trust and just having a view on it that we’ve been there before,” George said. “We’ve been in their position, we’ve been in their shoes. It’s a cycle. Guys helped us along the way and we have to be there for them. That’s all it comes down to. It’s good that we’ve been in the thick of things, having some ups and downs. Not only is it continuing to build character among myself, Russ and Melo, it’s building character in the young guys as well.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

‘We don’t flinch’ Westbrook says of Thunder

(Photo by TorreyPurvey.com)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY- While most of the sports-watching world was preparing to watch the Super Bowl, the Oklahoma City Thunder were busy putting the finishing touches on another bad loss.

Facing an L.A. Laker squad they had pummeled twice before, the Thunder found themselves on the losing end of a 108-104 defeat.

The loss was the fourth in a row for the Thunder (30-24), all to teams they were favored to beat.

Despite that, Russell Westbrook said now is the time he relishes being in the NBA. Anybody can show character during great times, but it’s how players respond to adversity is what interest the reigning MVP.

“We lost four in a row, that’s where we are at,” Westbrook said. “But the best part about this league is you get to play again. Adversity is great. For me personally, I love adversity. It gives you an opportunity to bring your teammates together, bring everybody together.”

Westbrook led the Thunder with 36 points, nine assists, five rebounds and seven turnovers. Paul George added 26 points while Carmelo Anthony chipped in for 10 points and 13 rebounds.

But it was the youngest team in the league who made fewer mistakes at the end of the game and were able to hold off the Thunder.

“I knew coming into this game, this was going to be a really hard game, you know, especially coming off the trip to Denver,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I actually thought, in some ways, this was going to be even a harder game… early game and trip and everything else. I thought offensively we had some really good moments and obviously some bad moments and obviously, the same thing could be said defensively. I don’t think we played consistently enough on both ends of the floor. I thought our guys battled and fought and tried to find a way the last three minutes to get really back into it and made some good plays to get it close but we didn’t play well enough over the 48 minutes.”

Brook Lopez paced L.A. with 20 points and five assists. Julius Randle added 19 points and Brandon Ingram scored 16 points on 7 of 13 shooting.

“It was just a conscious team effort. We knew all five had to crash,” Lopez said of the team’s rebounding efforts. “We knew we were capable of getting the stops as well. We just obviously had to eliminate their second chances and we did that, and everyone contributed. Like I always say, when we get the stop and we get the rebound, we’re at our best.”

Oklahoma City’s four-game losing streak ties their longest stretch of the season. All have occurred since the season-ending injury to shooting guard Andre Roberson Jan. 27.

Roberson has been replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Terrance Ferguson. After early success during Roberson’s first injury stint, Ferguson has been unable to get on track.

“We just continue to build his confidence. He is still above average with where he is, he is doing a phenomenal job still. He is a rookie,” George said. “There are going to be some bumps and bruises and he is going to have some learning moments. We are very proud of Terrance. We are all trying to help Terrance. It is unusual, being a young guy coming off the bench, and then a guy goes down and you are starting. It has been a bit of a roller coaster in his career so far, but you have to be ready for everything. He has been a huge professional at a young age, so we will continue to work with him. We are going to persevere through it with him.”

Oklahoma City travels to Golden State Tuesday for another match up with the Warriors. The Thunder won the first encounter back in November. The way the team is currently playing, though, they could easily run the streak to five games.

But Westbrook believes the Thunder were built to overcome tough times.

“Throughout the season there is going to be a lot of ups and downs,” Westbrook said. “But we never flinch. That is the one thing about this organization, about our team, we never flinch based on what’s going on. We are always going to stay together.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Writer with Eyeamtruth.com