Defenses on display when West Virginia, Oklahoma State collide

STILLWATER, Okla. — West Virginia rolls into its Big 12 opener Friday at Oklahoma State with a familiar look and feel, worthy of carrying on its “Press Virginia” persona.

The No 7-ranked Mountaineers (11-1) are producing 20.9 turnovers per game, the third-most nationally. So far, they’ve forced 251 turnovers while allowing just 245 field goals with their familiar brand of full-court pressure.

“We’re excited about the challenge,” said Cowboys coach Mike Boynton.

Excited, too, to counter with their own defense, which Boynton has worked hard to instill as his team’s identity. Oklahoma State (10-2) forces 17.0 turnovers per game, with an emphasis on half-court traps and staying active in passing lanes.

It could get intense inside Gallagher-Iba Arena.

“I expect it to be a really physical, high-intensity, knockdown, drag-out battle,” Boynton said

The Mountaineers will surely do their best to play their part, looking to carry momentum into the beginning of conference play.

“We’ve got to turn it up,” said West Virginia guard Daxter Miles. “It’s a different level of competition now and guys will be ready to play. Everybody’s got to be all in.”

The Mountaineers have won 11 straight since a rough 23-point loss to Texas A&M. So on the whole, it was a successful run through nonconference play, highlighted by a win over No. 15 Virginia.

West Virginia rides senior guard Javon Carter’s all-around efforts, as he ranks third in the Big 12 at 18.2 points per game, fourth with 6.3 assists and leads the nation at 3.7 steals.

“Javon Carter is somehow undervalued nationally,” Boynton said, “but you talk to the coaches in our league and we think he deserves more attention that what he’s gotten, because he does things really well on both ends of the floor. He’s a tremendous leader. He scores it well. And he also spearheads them defensively.”

The Cowboys are again leaning on senior guard Jeffrey Carroll, who missed the season’s first three games as the school performed an internal investigation into any possible involvement relating to the FBI crackdown on former assistant coach Lamont Evans.

Carroll, a preseason All-Big 12 selection, has averaged 19.7 points and 7.3 points since rejoining the starting lineup three games ago.

Otherwise, Oklahoma State relies on balance, with eight players averaging at least 7.6 points per game. And they count even more on defense, with a win over No. 24 Florida State serving as the calling card. The Cowboys forced the Seminoles into a season-high 22 turnovers in that game.

“That showed our blueprint, what we’re going to hang our hat on — defense,” Carroll said. “That game gave us a huge confidence boost for sure.”

West Virginia opens conference play on the road at Oklahoma State for the second straight season, part of an annual two-game road trip to start Big 12 play designed to kick out two long trips while school is still out for holiday break.

After Friday’s game in Stillwater, the Mountaineers will head to Manhattan, Kan., for a New Year’s Day game against Kansas State. For West Virginia’s newcomers, it’s an eye-opening welcome to the Big 12.

“It’s better to go through it than to just be told about it,” Carter said. “They’re just going to figure it out. It’s going to be a battle every night and there aren’t going to be any easy games. Every game is a grind.”