By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
For 39 minutes, West Virginia point guard Jevon Carter had scored just three points and missed five of his first six shots as the second-ranked Mountaineers were fighting desperately to live up to their highest ranking in 58 years.
But, as he's done countless times in his remarkable career, Carter hit the big shot.
After James Bolden forced Baylor's 21st turnover, Carter made the Baylor Bears pay for the mistake with a go-ahead 3-pointer as West Virginia (15-1, 4-0) survived to win its national-best 15th in a row, 57-54, Tuesday night before a crowd of 12,551 at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, W. Va.
"We said in the huddle, `It's Carter time,' so big players make big plays and that's why they're good players,'' said Baylor head coach Scott Drew, whose team fell to 11-5 overall and 1-3 in the Big 12. "I'll be really happy to see him walk across that stage and graduate, by the way."
Even after Carter's 3-pointer, Baylor had a chance to tie it when Jake Lindsey drained a corner trey to pull the Bears within one, 55-54, with 4.0 seconds left in regulation.
After Carter knocked down a pair of free throws, Lindsey threw a perfect strike near the top of the circle to 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil, who flipped to Manu Lecomte for an open 3-pointer from the left wing. Lecomte, who hit his first three 3-point attempts and finished with a game-high 13 points, missed long and right of the basket as time expired.
"It was a great play, ran by Coach Drew," Lecomte said. "We practice it a lot because it can happen any game. Especially in the Big 12, it's going to be close at the end every time. It's a play we practice a lot, and it ran perfectly. I got an open shot. I missed it, but it was a great by pass by Jo and I had an open look."
Both teams struggled on the offensive end, particularly down the stretch. The Bears were just 1-of-9 from the floor in the last eight minutes, while West Virginia shot 31 percent for the game, missed 10 of its last 12 shots and scored a season-low 57 points.
"We know we can play with anybody in the country," Drew said. "There are no moral victories, and you don't feel good after losses, but I do feel good about how our team competed and the leadership of our players. . . . Until we can take care of the basketball, you're not going to beat quality teams with 21 turnovers."
One year ago, a then-No. 1 Baylor team turned it over 29 times in an 89-68 loss at West Virginia. The Bears cut that number down to 21, but 20 of the Mountaineers' 57 points came off Baylor's turnovers.
"It didn't help," Lecomte said of the turnovers. "They got more shots than us because we turned it over a little bit too many times. We have to work on that. But, I think our intensity and our togetherness was great. We really played as a team. We fought hard. We beat them on the boards (44-36), so that's really positive."
Baylor got out to a great start, hitting five of its first eight shots and going up 13-4 on a Lecomte 3-pointer. The Bears kept the lead through most of the first half before West Virginia closed with a 9-3 run over the last five minutes and tied it up at 29-29 on a Bolden 3-pointer.
With Baylor going without a field goal for almost four minutes, the Mountaineers took a 35-31 lead early in the second half when Chase Harler fed Lamont West for a layup. But, they were never able to pull away.
Nuni Omot drained a 3-pointer from the corner that made it a one-point game, 48-47, and Baylor tied it at 49-49 on a pair of Tristan Clark free throws after Mark Vital took a hard foul and left the floor grabbing his right elbow.
The Bears had chances to take the lead, but Lecomte turned it over once, missed an open 3-pointer and also the front end of a one-and-one situation.
Baylor's senior point guard did tie it up again at 51-51 on a pair of free throws at the 2:23 mark, keeping the Bears' hopes alive for their first-ever win over a top-2 team.
Vital had a breakaway opportunity off a turnover by Sagaba Konate, but a hustling Bolden poked the ball out from behind and Daxter Miles saved it back inbounds to Carter. Coming off a Konate screen, Carter then gave the Mountaineers the lead for good.
"Just like I drew it up," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said jokingly. "Our young guys have a tendency to get out of sorts. (Carter) took it upon himself to make a play."
West and Miles had 12 points apiece for West Virginia, while Konate had eight points, 12 rebounds and a career-high seven blocks. Lual-Acuil notched his Big 12-high eighth double-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks.
Baylor finishes off a two-game road swing with a matchup against Iowa State (9-6, 0-4) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Ames before hosting Oklahoma State (11-4, 1-2) at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 15. The Cyclones took 12th-ranked Kansas down to the wire in Lawrence before falling, 83-78.