Mountaineers visit Cowboys in pivotal Big 12 melee

Stillwater, OK ( - Losers of two straight, the 22nd-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys play the first of two games against the West Virginia Mountaineers in a span of two weeks when the teams meet at Gallagher-Iba Arena on Saturday afternoon.

The Cowboys, who are hoping to avoid their first three-game slide of the 2014-15 campaign, were stunned by TCU last weekend in Fort Worth (70-55), and then came up short against Iowa State three nights ago at home, 70-65, marking the seventh time in the last eight meetings with the Cyclones that the game has been decided by five points or less.

As for the 23rd-ranked Mountaineers, they too have hit a few bumps in the road during their Big 12 Conference schedule, coming up with eight wins in 13 opportunities, while OSU has managed an even split through 14 league matchups. However, last Monday night the Mountaineers scored a major blow against the top team in the conference, Kansas, with a 62-61 victory at WVU Coliseum.

Oklahoma State leads the all-time series by a count of 4-1, winning four in a row since the series began in 1958 when seventh-ranked WVU posted a 67-49 win during the Kentucky Invitational. Last season, the Pokes posted an 81-75 victory in Stillwater and won a 73-72 close call in Morgantown.

It wasn't easy, but Juwan Staten played the hero for the Mountaineers earlier this week as his layup with four seconds left on the clock proved to be the game-winner versus the eighth-ranked Jayhawks. A finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, Staten knocked down 9-of-18 shots from the floor and finished with 20 points, although he didn't make a single trip to the free-throw line. Jevon Carter tacked on 13 points off the bench for the hosts as he connected on 3- of-5 shots behind the 3-point line for a group that actually shot better out on the perimeter (.381) than it did the field overall (.375).

During conference outings, Staten is posting a team-best 12.8 ppg, although he has converted just 40.2 percent of his field goal tries and a disappointing 58.1 percent at the charity stripe. Then again, the team as a whole has been having issues at the line versus the rest of the Big 12, making good on only 63.5 percent of the opportunities. Staten does make up for some of his shortcomings from a shooting perspective with his 59 assists, but even then the team is being outscored by the competition. Devin Williams checks in with 12.0 ppg and a team-best 9.0 rpg but again, the Mountaineers are coming up short on the glass on the average.

The Cowboys limited visiting Iowa State to only 39.3 percent shooting from the floor, including 6-of-20 beyond the arc, but where OSU had trouble locking down on the Cyclones was on the glass where ISU posted a 44-28 advantage and captured 18 offensive rebounds, compared to just four for the hosts. Except for Michael Cobbins who tallied nine points, to go along with eight rebounds, every starter for the Cowboys finished in double figures, led by Le'Bryan Nash and Phil Forte with 13 points apiece, followed by Anthony Hickey and Jeff Newberry who both tallied 12 points in the setback.

Unlike the Mountaineers who typically turn to just one player to do most of the damage, Oklahoma State has two top-notch performers in Nash and Forte. Nash is producing 17.0 ppg and 5.7 rpg and Forte another 16.5 ppg to go along with a defensive effort that has resulted in 54 steals. While Nash handles action in the paint, Forte can be a devastating perimeter threat with his 40.8 percent accuracy, but what they both share is the ability to get to the free- throw line where they've combined to make 256 attempts, compared to the rest of the team which accounts for only 134 points at the charity stripe.