By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Baylor might have caught 21st-ranked West Virginia at the worst possible time.
Still burning from Saturday's 77-69 loss at Kansas, the Mountaineers forced 12 first-half turnovers and held the Bears to a dismal 19.2 percent shooting in taking a 22-point halftime lead and cruising to a 71-60 victory before a crowd of 7,519 Tuesday night at the Ferrell Center.
Sophomore forward Sagabe Konata was particularly disruptive, finishing one block shy of a triple-double with 10 points, 10 rebounds and nine blocks to help West Virginia (20-8) bounce back in a big way and snap Baylor's Big 12-best five-game winning streak.
"Their physicality really bothered us," said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team fell to 17-11 overall and fifth in the Big 12 at 7-8. "First half, we turned it over way too much, missed way too many shots. But, I thought Konate, with his nine blocks, really affected the game. We needed to do a better job of getting into the paint and kicking to open people or dumping down to bigs."
The Bears made a valiant second-half comeback, trimming a 28-point deficit down to 55-43 with eight minutes to play. "But, it was too little, too late," Drew said.
"When you dig a hole like that, you have to expend a lot of energy to cut that lead," said junior guard Jake Lindsey, who missed six of his seven shots and finished with four points and five rebounds. "You've got to get a little lucky, and they might miss a shot or two, or fumble a ball, and we might catch a turnover and a fast break. We just didn't convert when they did do that. We didn't do a good enough job taking away their strengths."
Jevon Carter hit back-to-back 3-pointers to stretch West Virginia's lead to 48-20 in the first two minutes of the second half. But, to their credit, the Bears didn't go away.
Manu Lecomte, who was scoreless with four turnovers in the first half, started a 21-5 run with a running floater in the lane. He then hit all three free throws on a three-shot foul, fed Nuni Omot for a trey and buried one of his own.
Konate slowed down the run with a jumper, stretching the lead back to 20, but those were the Mountaineers' last points for almost 6 ½ minutes as Baylor reeled off eight unanswered points.
Omot and Terry Maston traded buckets in a run that was capped by a Maston layup off a dish from Lecomte. Suddenly, the Bears were back within striking distance and West Virginia had to be thinking about all the double-digit leads it's squandered this season.
"Scott did a great job at halftime," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "They came back out and really played. Their kids played really hard and took a bunch of stuff away from us."
Maston missed a jumper from just inside the free-throw line at the 7:32 mark that would have made it a 10-point game, then got hit with a foul and technical foul after an exchange with Konate.
"I made sure the officials knew my thought on the physicality," Drew said of the technical foul he got about a minute later. "It's hard, you get one player chirping and then another player chirps back. At the end of the day, I always say catch the first. If it's us, we deserve a technical. If it's them, they deserve the technical. But eventually, if someone's chirping, someone's going to chirp back. If you catch that first guy, that solves the problem."
After digging out of that massive hole, the back-breaker for the Bears was a rare four-point play by guard Daxter Miles Jr. At the end of the shot clock, he knocked down a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc and then hit the follow free throw when Omot was whistled for a foul. Just like that, it went from a 12-point deficit back up to 59-43.
Drew said Miles' four point play "was a dagger."
"You spend that much energy, and that's a four-point play," he said. "The more of the story is you can't get down 48-20."
"I thought we had really good momentum, and obviously I closed out to (Miles') right hand, because he's a right-handed shooter," said Omot, who had seven points and two rebounds before fouling out with 4:33 left. "I didn't think I touched him, and they called it. I probably could have jumped to the side a little more, and it wouldn't have looked like I fouled him."
After a Maston turnover, Konate drained a pair of free throws and Carter hit one of two on the technical against Drew before Miles fed Esa Ahmad for a dunk that pushed the lad back to 64-44.
Carter and Ahmad had 15 points apiece for the Mountaineers, while Lecomte had 12 points and Jo Lual-Acuil recorded a double-double with 16 points and 10 boards for the Bears.
Baylor is on the road for two of its last three games, playing TCU (18-9, 6-8) at 11 a.m. Saturday in Fort Worth. A home finale against Oklahoma next Tuesday is sandwiched between the road games against TCU and Kansas State (March 3).