Johnathan Motley came into the second half with intent, scoring Baylor’s first 8 points all at the rim with multiple dunks, including one behind his head. His teammates made a point of finding him with the ball early, and Motley went hard to the rim as often as he touched the ball. Motley had a tough time scoring in the first half, but he did just about everything else. He had as many rebounds as points (4) along with 2 assists and 3 blocks. In the second, however, he poured it in, finishing with 22 points to lead all scorers.
Baylor’s best offense came after defensive stops, when West Virginia was less able to set up its full court press. Even if a quick push up the floor ended with Al Freeman or Jake Lindsey pulling up, at least there was no danger of a trap forcing a poor pass. A 16-2 Baylor run from the 8:40 mark until 4:01 left in the second half brought the Bears a 57-51 lead going into the final TV timeout. Jevon Carter ( 16 points, 8 rebounds) made tough shots all game, creating something out of nothing when his team’s offense stalled. West Virginia didn’t have much going on offensively outside of his creation late in the second half, which helped give Baylor its 28-13 run over the final 8:40 of the game.
This was a frustrating one most of the way. Against a team like West Virginia, poise and decision-making is tantamount to success. A pattern of poor decisions inbounding and bringing the ball up the floor against pressure kept the Bears from getting into their offense early in the clock, leading to shorter sets and fewer opportunities to get the ball inside. Baylor’s aggression on offense - keyed, unexpectedly, by occasionally electric minutes from Wendell Mitchell - kept West Virginia in foul trouble and managed to keep the game in reach most of the game.
For their part, the Mountaineers executed their game plan well. The Press Virginia™ defense wreaked havoc and created opportunities for easy buckets, while the half court offense - the first 9:30 of the game not withstanding - gashed Baylor’s defense and got into the paint with regularity. Jo Lual-Acuil, a fantastic weak-side shot-blocker, found himself in compromising positions all night with a ball-handler dribbling into his chest.
Baylor began the game with a plan anyone would expect: to get the ball inside. In an attempt to avoid being turned over by the Mountaineers like last game, the pass into the bigs frequently came as a lob. The high passes favored Baylor’s superior height and drew fouls as West Virginia players held the bigs down. The Bears’ first 8 points came at the rim as a result, including 4 from Jo Lual-Acuil.
The Bears jumped out to a 14-3 lead in the first 10 minutes before a 15-3 WVU run over a minute and a half, including two technical foul shots after Scott Drew lost his cool over a dubious foul call at half court. While Baylor’s defense began the game as a stone wall around the paint, Bob Huggins devised a few schemes to get his players into the paint on the move and turned up the ball pressure that somehow seemed to catch the Baylor back court off guard. In their defense, Baylor’s front court wasn't very helpful in pressure relief.
Jevon Carter was the star of the first half. A contested three was West Virginia’s first and only basket for a long stretch of the game before Carter turned up his aggression on both ends. He snagged a couple of steals, pulled down rebounds, and drove straight into Lual-Acuil’s chest, once scoring through contact and drawing a shooting foul the other.
Early foul troubled favored the Bears in this one. Daxter Miles Jr. earned his second foul less than a minute and a half into the game. His defensive quickness is a key part to Press Virginia’s defensive scheme. Nathan Adrians earned his second on a Motley drive with 13:58 and went to the bench, failing to score in the first half.
Manu Lecomte, Baylor’s starting point guard all season, sat out with an ankle injury. Jake Lindsey started in his place. On the other side, Esa Ahmad, WVU’s second leading scorer, was also out with injury.
Baylor has come from behind several times over this season, but tonight’s game felt more urgent. After a tough stretch in the schedule, Scott Drew’s squad needed a W to right the ship. Another win over a top 10 team will almost certainly seal a seed on the 2-line at least.
Ish Wainright, Baylor’s lone senior and who will be the first Bear to go to the NCAA four straight seasons, finished Senior Night with a true glue guy stat line: 7 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. Baylor has had few players as lovable and charismatic as Ish, and I’m glad he got the finish his Ferrel Center career with a signature victory.