A Daxter Miles' free throw brought the lead down to single digits with 10:43 in the 2nd half, and it seemed as though Baylor might let another double-digit halftime lead slip away. Thanks to good free throw shooting and great passing, the Bears widened the margin back out to 20 with 5:37 left. They never had any doubts.
The Baylor Bears seem to be a tough matchup for the West Virginia Mountaineers. Thanks to the myriad ball handlers on the roster, Scott Drew can have three capable dribblers and passers on the floor at all times. Royce O'Neale did it all once again. He tallied 18 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals. He was all over the floor, cutting to the rim, jumping passing lanes, and coming open to relieve the pressure on teammates. He found Taurean Prince three times beyond the arc, skipping the ball across the defense to hit Prince wide open on the weak side. O'Neale and Prince combined to make all 8 of Baylor's three-point shots, each shooting 4-6 from deep.
Rico Gathers was back to his usual self, collecting his 15th double-double this season. He played with ferocious energy in the first half. He opened the scoring with a vicious dunk, and then he did this with under 2 minutes in the half:
Don Quixote is lucky he never mistook Gathers for a windmill. He never would have survived.
Gather's energy really turned the game back Baylor's way in the 2nd half. West Virginia had was dominating the boards and out-hustling the Bears on both ends. Then, on a breakaway, Prince missed a dunk that would have brought down the house. Gathers dove into the crowd to keep the ball alive, and one pass later O'Neale drained a three to reignite the crowd. Moments like that are what make Gathers valuable even beyond his stats. He also knocked down 9 of his 12 free throws, an area where he has improved vastly even over the course of this season.
Al Freeman, who must love playing West Virginia, finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds and shot 6-8 from the charity stripe. He played with great energy and did a good job keeping the ball moving in the offense. He also cut back on his mistakes, giving up just 2 turnovers. Kenny Chery and Lester Medford contributed in non-scoring ways. They kept their hands up and deflected passes that went into the middle of the zone. They combined for just 3 turnovers against West Virginia's frustrating pressure.
Bob Huggin's squad came into the game short handed. Juwan Staten was ruled out with a knee injury before the game. Then, just a few minutes in, backup guard Gary Browne got rolled up on by Gathers fighting for a loose ball. He was out for the rest of the game.
In their place, freshman guard Jevon Carter did his honest best to keep the Mountaineers in the game. He scored a game-high 25 points on 7-13 from three. He was fantastic all game, and without him, who knows how badly things would have gone for West Virginia.
Baylor is now tied for 3rd in the Big 12 with West Virginia and Iowa State. Baylor has the tie-breaker over both schools thanks to sweeps. Today's win ensured that the Bears have a bye in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament, an edge that helped Iowa State beat the Bears in last year's final when Baylor was playing their 4th game in 4 nights. Baylor is only 1 game back of Oklahoma for 2nd, and 1.5 games behind Kansas (Note: Texas is leading Kansas in the 2nd half as of the writing of this recap).
Baylor will head to Austin on Monday to face the Longhorns before closing the regular season at home against Texas Tech on March 6. Baylor has a great chance to finish top 3 in the league, a huge accomplishment for a team picked to finish 6th. I can't get tired of saying this: Scott Drew has demonstrated this season that he is a high-quality coach. He has his team surpassing all expectations, and that's awesome. He deserves to be strongly in conversation for Big 12 Coach of the Year, and he might even be the front-runner after this week.
The stats, per ESPN:
|West Virginia Mountaineers|
|Jonathan Holton, F||2-6||0-1||3-4||7||3||10||3||0||0||2||3||7|
|Devin Williams, F||2-8||0-0||0-0||3||4||7||1||0||0||0||4||4|
|Jevon Carter, G||8-16||7-13||2-2||3||2||5||3||2||0||5||2||25|
|Daxter Miles Jr., G||4-9||1-5||2-4||2||2||4||5||1||0||1||4||11|
|Gary Browne, G||0-0||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Nathan Adrian, F||1-4||0-1||0-0||2||0||2||1||0||1||0||0||2|
|Brandon Watkins, F||0-1||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Elijah Macon, F||4-6||0-0||1-2||0||5||5||3||0||1||0||2||9|
|BillyDee Williams, F||3-5||0-0||0-0||0||2||2||3||1||0||1||2||6|
|Chase Connor, G||0-2||0-2||0-0||0||0||0||0||1||0||1||2||0|
|Jaysean Paige, G||1-6||0-2||0-0||2||0||2||0||2||0||1||3||2|
|Tarik Phillip, G||0-0||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||1||0||0||2||0||0|
|Royce O'Neale, F||5-9||4-6||4-7||1||3||4||7||2||2||1||1||18|
|Rico Gathers, F||4-7||0-0||9-12||4||6||10||2||0||1||1||3||17|
|Johnathan Motley, F||3-5||0-0||1-2||0||1||1||0||2||1||0||3||7|
|Kenny Chery, G||1-4||0-2||2-2||0||2||2||4||1||0||0||3||4|
|Lester Medford, G||0-2||0-1||0-2||0||2||2||0||2||0||3||0||0|
|Taurean Prince, F||8-16||4-6||0-0||0||1||1||3||3||2||1||3||20|
|Austin Mills, G||0-0||0-0||0-0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|Al Freeman, G||2-3||0-0||6-8||4||3||7||2||0||0||2||1||10|
|Ishmail Wainright, G||1-1||0-0||0-0||1||0||1||0||0||0||0||1||2|
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