Early Excellence Fuels Key Road Win At Baylor
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Baylor was demoralized after the first half against West Virginia.
The latter 20 minutes should have been nothing more than putting a polish on as shiny of a game as can be recalled in recent memory. The No. 21 Mountaineers didn’t do one thing well in leading 40-28 at the break. They did everything well. But as has become the pattern, WVU had to stave off a touch of a comeback, Baylor getting to within 55-43 with seven minutes left after trailing by as many as 28.
Coming off a game in which he hit career-high six three-pointers, Dax Miles then silenced both crowd and comeback by canning a three and the resulting free throw after the foul for a rare four-point play. That segued into a 7-0 run that essentially ended the threat as the Mountaineers sealed a needed 71-60 road win. Though it could have been smoother, this one was as close to easy street as exists in the Big 12 this season.
“I’m happy to win,” head coach Bob Huggins said. “We tried not to for awhile. I don’t know why we can’t keep the pedal down the whole time. There were a lot of stoppages in play, which didn’t help anything.”
WVU rolled to the 22-point margin at the half and, this time, didn’t have to truly hang on to record the victory. Instead, they continued the effort and execution that led to the massive halftime advantage over the first three minutes of the latter period to expand the edge to 50-22 on a Sags Konate dunk with 17:17 left. Even with the Baylor rally – the Bears scored 21 of the game’s 26 points in a poor stretch – the overall result was, frankly, a breath of fresh air compared to the collapses that have plagued the program in Big 12 play.
“I thought (the defense) was really good,” Huggins said. “Our man was really good then we played zone at the end to burn clock. It’s hard when you can just bang into the defensive player until you get down close enough to shoot it. I thought our hands were active.”
West Virginia (20-8, 9-6) forced a dozen turnovers over the initial 20 minutes, turning those into 16 points. Baylor could do next to nothing on either end in the opening half, with the Bears (17-11, 7-8) managing just six points over the first 10 minutes and eight in the initial 14 of play. BU had eight turnovers in that time, and the Mountaineers capitalized, amassing significant margins in points in the paint, bench points, steals and assists. Perhaps the best raw stat of the opening half? WVU’s 54 percent shooting with 15 field goal compared to Baylor’s ice cold 5-of-26 shooting for 19 percent.
That’s five made buckets in the first half, with just one assist. There was little wonder the Bears wilted under the relentless pressure, particularly when it was combined with some offensive prowess as Beetle Bolden and Esa Ahmad both reached double figures at 10 points by the half, each making a trio of three-pointers. That continued into a second half that saw the Mountaineers outscored 42-31, but win the overall battle after being unable to hold five double-digit leads this season.
“The second half we came out and didn’t fake the pass and we put it over our head and they got a hand on a couple of them,” Huggins said of a halfcourt offense that relied upon getting the ball to the corner and distributing or attacking from there. “Then we came down and shot threes and we got in foul trouble and got tentative. I don’t know why we can’t keep the pedal down. We dribble and fall over. It’s a catastrophe.”
Jevon Carter scored a team-best 15 points while coming within one assist of being just the fifth player in NCAA history – and the first in a Power Five conference – to have at least 1,500 points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists. Carter also garnered two steals to add to his program-record 301 entering.
Ahmad also hit for 15 points with four rebounds and three assists, while Konate and Bolden finished with 10 points. Konate added 10 rebounds and amassed nine blocks, tying the WVU program record set by D’or Fischer against Rhode Island in March of 2004. Konate now has 91 blocks on the season, getting the sophomore within 33 of tying Fischer’s single-season record of 124 in 2003-04.
“He was counting that he had 10,” Huggins said. “He changes things. He blocks three or four and you start looking for him and don’t know where the rim is. It wasn’t just him. Esa blocked a few. Esa was focused today.
“That’s the best Esa has been since the Texas Tech game his first game back. We just can’t get them all playing at once. Teddy (Allen) didn’t do what Teddy does. He had the ball around the hoop and didn’t score. Lamont (West) shot one off the top of the backboard. He has to rebound it, too. We gotta get him going again.”
Still, to snap the five-game winning streak of the hottest team in the conference was impressive, especially in the style displayed. West Virginia led for 38:38 of the game’s 40 minutes and controlled vast stretches of play other than the 21-5 push by the Bears midway through the second half. This time, the Mountaineers took the counter-punch and were able to finish, securing the 20th win of the season for a fifth consecutive year.