Led by senior guard Jaysean Paige 14 points, West Virginia's bench delivered once again in the final game of the regular season to help the Mountaineers lock up the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big 12 Championship with a 69-58 win against the Baylor Bears in Waco.
After a slow start in the first half by both teams, the Mountaineers pulled away in the second, outscoring Baylor 39-31 in the final 20 minutes to finish the season on a high note with a 24-7 overall record and 13-5 mark in the Big 12; the best conference record WVU has posted since its Final Four run in 2010.
“We didn’t play very well the first half. We didn’t run offense. They’re really long and really athletic. We tried to spread them out a bit more in the second half,” said head coach Bob Huggins on IMG’s Mountaineer Postgame Report.
“It’s kind of like we always do, we never know who’s going to make plays but someone always does.”
Sophomore point guard Jevon Carter saved one of his best performances of the season for last, scoring eight points, dishing out eight assists and grabbing three steals on the day. For the game, West Virginia had 14 assists on 21 made field goals.
“I thought JC, that was the best game he’s played since he’s been here. He’s really starting to play and think like a point guard now He passed up a couple shots early that I wish he wouldn’t have,” Huggins said.
Carter’s sharp play opened up the floor for West Virginia’s offense, as the Mountaineers converted 46-percent of their field goals this afternoon. West Virginia’s consistent shooting helped it wrap up a 6-3 conference road record for the season, tied with Big 12 champion Kansas for the best away mark in league play.
West Virginia’s defense held Baylor to a season low scoring total today, and almost completely shut down one of the most dominant big men in the country in Rico Gathers for the second time this year. Gathers finished with just five points on 2-for-7 shooting, and fouled out of the game.
“We’re getting smarter I think at the defensive end. We’re not having to think about things. It seems like every time they made a big run we came up with a steal or a loose ball,” Huggins said.
Huggins enjoyed big performances from all four of his guards today, including sophomore Daxter Miles Jr. who racked up 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting, and also pulled down three rebounds. He, Jaysean Paige and Tarik Phillip all finished with double digit point totals.
“Dax is paying the best basketball since he’s been here, and Jaysean without a question is playing his best basketball,” Huggins said.
There was one concerning development for West Virginia on the day, as senior forward Jonathan Holton left the game in the second half after coming down awkwardly on his ankle.
The good news for the Mountaineers is that they don’t play again until the Quarterfinals of the Big 12 Championship Thursday evening, when they will take on the winner of the Texas Tech-TCU game.
West Virginia will head to Kansas City’s Sprint Center in search of its first win in the conference tournament since joining the Big 12.
“Looking forward to winning a game or three in the conference tournament and staying a little longer than what we’ve been staying. I like where we are,” Huggins said.