KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Avery Anderson III hit the go-ahead bucket for Oklahoma State with less than a minute to go, and Sean McNeil’s tying 3-pointer came a split-second after the final buzzer, allowing the No. 12 Cowboys to escape with a 72-69 win over No. 10 West Virginia in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals Thursday.
Anderson and Big 12 player of the year Cade Cunningham had 17 points apiece for the fifth-seeded Cowboys (19-7), who have won seven of their last eight games – including two against the Mountaineers – with the only loss to No. 2 Baylor.
Isaac Likekele and Bryce Williams each added 10 points to help the Cowboys reach the semifinal round, where they will face the top-seeded Bears or No. 9 seed Kansas State for a spot in Saturday’s championship game.
Taz Sherman had given West Virginia (19-8) a 69-68 lead with his 3-pointer with 1:12 to go, but Anderson answered at the other end for Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers squandered a chance to retake the lead when Miles McBride and Emmitt Matthews missed near the bucket, and Williams calmly hit two free throws with 21.3 seconds left to extend the lead.
The Mountaineers drew up a play to get Sherman an open 3 from the corner in the final seconds, but he misfired and the ball found its way to McNeil. He threw a pump fake to get a defender in the air, and the moment it took to do that cost him a chance at the winner – the buzzer had sounded by the time he released his own 3 and it splashed through the net.
McBride and Sherman finished with 19 points apiece for West Virginia. Derek Culver added 11 points and nine boards.
The teams split their regular-season meetings with West Virginia rallying from 19 down to win in Stillwater and Oklahoma State edging the Mountaineers last week in Morgantown without Cunningham or Likekele at their disposal.
Made sense that they would play another nip-and-tuck affair in the Big 12 Tournament.
Both teams were sloppy at the start, and neither gained separation until a disastrous final minute for the Cowboys.
It began when Sean McNeil bounced a 3-pointer about a half-dozen times on the rim before it fell and Cowboys coach Mike Boynton called a timeout with 28 seconds left in the half. Instead of getting a final shot, though, Cunningham turned it over and McBride coasted for a layup. Then the West Virginia guard stripped Keylan Boone and dunked at the buzzer.
Rather than a chance at the halftime lead, Oklahoma State trailed 36-30 at the break.
The Mountaineers pushed the lead to eight and were still in control until Williams hit a 3-pointer with 12:25 to go, triggering a 14-point run interrupted only by McBride’s lone free throw. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins called a timeout to try to slow it down, but Likekele and Anderson responded with breakaway buckets to keep it going.
The Cowboys’ lead reached 64-54 with 5 1/2 minutes to go before Sherman got involved.
The Mountaineers’ senior guard followed back-to-back 3-pointers with another basket, pulling back almost all of their deficit in a matter of 90 seconds and setting up a frantic final few minutes.
Oklahoma State got Cunningham back from an ankle injury sustained against Baylor, and Likekele was back after missing a series of games with a nagging foot injury. Both played pivotal roles in advancing to the next round.
West Virginia couldn’t overcome 15 turnovers while the Cowboys managed to survive 20 of their own. They also struggled to get baskets in the paint, resorting to outside shooting as they tried to come back down the stretch.
The Cowboys await their opponent in Friday night’s semifinal round.