Grit, Effort Mark WVU Win Over Baylor
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The thing about sports is that yesterday doesn’t matter and tomorrow is too far away to care about.
That may be the biggest lesson to come out of West Virginia’s pulsating 57-54 victory over Baylor before a sold out crowd of 12,551 deafening fans at the Coliseum Tuesday night.
See, yesterday WVU had reached the No. 2 spot in the nation for the first time since 1959. They did so with a 14-game winning streak, and do you know what it meant?
Not a darn thing, for this was Tuesday, game day, and reputations carry no weight on game day.
Only made shots, rebounds, hustle and the breaks of the game matter, and this was a grind-it-out affair where West Virginia found a way to win while shooting just 31.1 percent and being out-rebounded, 44-36.
How’d they win?
Sweat, mostly. Sweet sweat. They were on the floor more times than Floyd Patterson when he fought Sonny Liston. They were diving after loose balls, turning the skin under their white uniforms to black and blue.
Chase Harler came off the bench and played with a passion, making 2-of-3 shots and a couple of free throws, grabbing three rebounds — all on the offensive side — and snaring a couple of steals while putting together some assists.
“Chase was big for us, but that’s who we are,” said senior Daxter Miles, Jr. “One guy is not doing his thing, someone else comes in and steps up. Everyone has to be ready because everyone is going to get a chance.”
Miles was one of those guys.
He was having a tough night shooting, 3-of-8, and knew it.
“Got to play defense then,” he said.
And he did, while also making maybe the play of the game, racing down the court after he turned it over in the closing minutes, diving out of bounds under the Baylor basket and somehow flipping the ball back in to Beetle Bolden.
In the end, though, if there were any Mountaineers wearing Superman capes, it was Jevon Carter and Sagaba Konate, which isn’t strange, except that they combined to shoot 5-for-21 in the game.
But at the end, with 27 seconds left and the game tied at 51-51 and with him just 1-of-6 from the floor, Carter lit the joint up with a 3 and then closed out the scoring with two free throws, which kept the heat on Baylor to the point that their last desperation shot by Manu Lecomte was off the mark.
“Just like I drew it up,” Bob Huggins said of the Carter 3, joking, for it came off a messed-up play. “He just took upon himself to make a play.”
He usually does.
Funny thing, Baylor knew it was coming.
“We said in the huddle, ‘It’s Carter’s time.’ Big players make big plays. That’s why they’re good players. I’ll be really happy to see him walk across that stage and graduate,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew.
And then there was Konate, juiced up going against 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., grabbing off 12 rebounds and blocking seven shots. So it was WVU held on to go to 15-1 and now is the only team in the Big 12 to remain unbeaten in league play … and the season is just four games old.
Almost a year to the day since they came into the Coliseum to face the Mountaineers as the nation’s No. 1 team, Baylor returned, only roles were reversed, and that didn’t bode well for the Bears.
WVU was enjoying its first full day at No. 2 in the nation and Baylor’s record showed that it has played the top two teams in the nation 17 times and never won and had gone on the road to face a Top 5 team 21 times and lost each time.
But a combination of cold shooting by the Mountaineers and hot shooting by Baylor saw the Bears rush out to a nine-point lead, which had WVU scrambling from behind throughout the half.
Considering that they shot only 30.3 percent from the floor, it was somewhat miraculous that they found a way to go to the locker room at halftime tied at 29.
Beetle Bolden got them even with a 3 with 23 seconds left in the half, sending WVU into the locker room trying to figure a way to stop Baylor’s outside shooting.
The Bears, led by Lecomte, hit 5 of 7 3s, with Lecomte making all three of his attempts.
Baylor, in fact, missed only 13 first-half shots and four of them were on blocks by Sagaba Konate, who gave the sold-out crowd a scare when he went down with an ankle injury, but made a fast return from the locker room and showed no signs of the injury.
The second half started with a message, Konate going up to block Lual-Acuil’s shot, his fifth shot of the game, and WVU wound up with Lamont West hitting from the outside to give WVU it’s first lead of the night at 31-29.
The second half was simply a grind-it-out mish-mash of confused officiating, bad shooting and physical play … but when it was over, Huggins would have been thrilled, for an hour after the game, out on the court Bolden and Miles and Carter were out there shooting around.