WVU tackled the Baylor zone and were in position for their first series win in four tries before freshmen guards Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter committed consecutive turnovers, turning a one-point game into a 71-66 BU lead with three minutes left. Both miscues, in the backcourt, led directly to run-outs and easy transition points, and turned a tight contest with pressure on the favorites to a simple matter of protecting the lead down the stretch.
And in that capacity, there was no comparison. After a the pair of possessions during which West Virginia never got a shot, the Mountaineers (23-9) traded free throws before Jaysean Paige missed a three. Baylor then hit four free throws on its next two possessions for a 77-68 lead that sealed the game for the Bears, which have now won four in a row over WVU and seen of the eight all-time meetings. After TCU’s win on Wednesday, the Mountaineers are now the lone Big 12 team without a victory in the league’s postseason tournament; WVU has not won a postseason league tournament game since it captured the Big East title in 2010.
“We got the ball pretty much where we wanted to get the ball,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “We just didn’t finish around the rim the way we needed to finish around the rim. The made some key shots and we didn’t.”
The miscues were uncharacteristic of the freshmen. It was Miles’ lone turnover of the game against 11 points, though WVU was minus-19 in points over his 22 minutes. Carter scored eight, and ran the team well in his initial postseason start. He added four steals and three assists. Paige and Devin Williams, who fouled out with 2:22 to play, led the Mountaineers with 18 points. The Mountaineers, however, scored just six points over the final 6:36, none from the floor, and were dominated 40-20 in the paint. Baylor had a 31-28 edge on the boards, and shot 16 more free throws, making 13 more.
“We talked about it going I, we can’t put them at the free throw line 34 times,” Huggins said. “When we have lost, that’s what has happened – people have doubled us from the free throw line, and that’s basically doubled us from the free throw line again. You can’t win like that.”
It was the same issue in previous meetings, with Baylor making 22 of 33 compared to West Virginia’s 8 of 12 in Waco, and the Bears outshooting the Mountaineers 25-15 at the line in the win in Morgantown.
The Bears, now vying for a higher NCAA seed and perhaps a spot in the Houston Regional, were led by four players in double figures. Taurean Prince scored a team-best 18 points, with Royce O’Neale and Rico Gathers adding 16 and 15, respectively. Gathers, in foul trouble for portions of the game, had nine rebounds. The Bears are one of four teams to have held every foe below 75 points.
“It was our third time playing them, and it was a statement game,” Williams said.
And West Virginia made one throughout most of it. The contest was tight throughout, with neither Baylor (24-8) nor West Virginia able to lead by any more than six until after the late WVU turnovers. The Mountaineers attacked the 1-3-1 look well, getting the ball into the high post or shallow corners and attacking from there. That pressured Baylor’s wings, as they tried to cover added ground, giving either an open passing lane to the bucket, a jumper or a better look from outside. It led to a sizzling start to the first half, including six threes.
But that eventually fizzled, West Virginia finishing nine for 24 and being forced to methodically operate against the zone. The mental fatigue, as well as physical, perhaps wore on Carter and Miles down the stretch, as it was the first time the frosh were asked to be the primary ballhanders in a postseason game due to injuries to senior guards Juwan Staten and Gary Browne. Staten said afterward that “the next time you see me, I’ll be playing.” Staten’s lower body injury is undisclosed, while Browne has a high ankle sprain.
“There were a couple miscues down the stretch, and that can’t happen,” Carter said.
The Bears capitalized, hitting free throws over the final minutes, an aspect WVU struggled with in missing the first end of a one-and-one twice after leading by as many as three at 62-59 on Tarik Phillip’s jumper with 7:58 to play. Baylor, in reaching the Big 12 semifinal for the fifth time in the last seven tournaments, managed to eclipse a six-point over the final minutes, keeping the Bears as the only team in the nation which has led every game by at least that much. With the loss, West Virginia likely moves into the No. 5/6 NCAA Tournament seeding bubble from the potential for a No. 4/5 with a win.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times in a row, especially a team like that,” BU head coach Scott Drew said. “We knew coming into any game that it was going to be a war and playing on one or two possession games and you’ve got to operate late and I thought our guys did a great job down the stretch. Having a senior point guard and leader like Royce O’Neal leading us, and two juniors in Rico and T.P. did a really good job of keeping focus and making sure we operated properly.”
And that, in the end, was the difference. Size and experience and age against its opposite. Sill, WVU, perhaps with Staten and Browne returning, are primed for an excellent run in the NCAA Tournament, pending seeding and match-ups. But, as Paige noted after the game, thee win is the important thing, and “we didn’t come up with it.”
Baylor led 38-36 at the break. The teams jostled back and forth for the first 10 minutes, trading leads as BU started cold, then began to heat up. The Bears took a four-point lead early, and the margin was the same after eight minutes played at 14-10 as BU hit five shots in a row.
The Mountaineers then settled in with the game plan, intelligently attacking the zone and getting inside buckets from Williams and Macon and a three from Carter for the lead. Baylor then adjusted, moving the wings up a few steps and taking away the high post entry pass. That frustrated the Mountaineers over the final eight-plus minutes, with the game tied three times before West Virginia scored seven straight for a 28-23 lead.
Baylor responded with its length, going inside to finish with 15 of the final 23 points of the period for the two-point halftime advantage. WVU managed a 15-15 split on the boards, and went six-of-11 from three-point range to Baylor’s one-for-nine. The Bears had a 24-8 edge in points in the paint by the half, and would continue to dominate that area with their superior size and frontcourt numbers well into the second half, WVU countering with some gritty effort and decent shooting before again falling short.