MORGANTOWN — Gabe Osabuohien got the lion’s share of the attention after West Virginia’s 70-60 victory over Oklahoma Tuesday night at the WVU Coliseum, and rightfully so.
The usually defensive-minded senior forward contributed a season-best 12 points to go along with his otherwise normal stat line of eight rebounds, six fouls drawn (including three charges taken), two steals, one assist and one blocked shot.
The other Mountaineer who stood out in the win over the Cowboys was Jalen Bridges, who led all scorers with 22 points.
He also amassed five rebounds, seven fouls drawn (resulting in 10 free throws, of which he made all 10), one assist, one steal, no turnovers and three blocked shots in 33:34 of court time.
Certainly Bridges (8.6 points per game) has always been more offensively skilled than the blue-collar Osabuohien (4.7), but even for the sophomore forward from Fairmont, Tuesday was a heck of a night.
“I was letting the game coming to me rather than hunting shots,” explained the 6-foot-7 Bridges. “I’ve been trying to play more aggressive, but there is a right way to do that and a wrong way to do that. I saw I wasn’t making shots, so I started trying to get to the rim. I wound up getting to the foul line a lot, and I was knocking them down.”
Bridges’ 22 points equaled his career high, matching the scoring output he had against TCU last season. His performance against the Horned Frogs also included 12 rebounds for his only career double-double.
“He has a really good understanding of how to play,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins, whose club is now 13-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big 12 going into Saturday’s game at Kansas. “His dad [Cory Bridges, played at Fairmont Senior and Fairmont State University] did a great job with him growing up.
“[Jalen] probably has a better understanding of what’s supposed to happen, [compared] to everyone else. He’ll turn his head and make a cut to the basket. Maybe their defense gets a little mesmerized by the ball, and he’ll make a great cut,” added Huggins. “He does a great job at reading where the ball is coming off the rim. He does a lot of things a lot of guys don’t or can’t do.
“He got 22, but he didn’t shoot it very well [6 of 14 from the floor and 0 of 4 on 3-pointers]. Not as well as he usually shoots it.”
Bridges may not have shot the ball as well as he normally does (46.9% on the season from the field and 33.3% from 3), but he equaled his career-high in points because he had his best-ever performance from the foul line. He’s long been a good free throw shooter (75.4% in his two seasons at WVU), but he had never previously had a game where he was perfect from the line when he had had more than four shots. In fact, the last Mountaineer to not miss a foul shot in a game with at least 10 attempts happened three years ago when Beetle Bolden was 10 of 10 in a loss to Baylor in the 2018-19 season.
Bridges’ free throw performance also led a WVU squad, which entered the clash with Oklahoma State shooting a Big 12-worst 63.7% from the line, to a 21-of-22 foul shooting performance. Only once in West Virginia’s recorded history had it been better as a team at the charity stripe than its 95.5% Tuesday night with at least 15 attempts — 23 of 24 (95.8%) in an 89-51 blowout of Kansas State in the 2017-18 season.
“I’m super-excited to see where we can go as a team,” concluded Bridges. “You can kind of tell that we’re starting to buy in and getting that chemistry going. I think the sky is the limit for us, and we’ll go as far as we want to go.”