By MIKE CASAZZA
The Mountaineers (14-2, 3-1 Big 12), who aren’t new to games or victories against No. 1, didn’t merely win. The 89-68 final score was the seventh-largest margin of victory ever against a No. 1-ranked team. WVU is now 3-4 at the Coliseum against the top-ranked team and 5-8 all time. This is the second straight season WVU has beaten No. 1 at home. Kansas, which fell from the top here last season, could rise to No. 1 in the next poll and visits the Mountaineers on Jan. 24.
Still, Baylor (15-1, 3-1) had already won three games against teams ranked in the top 10 in the polls and six others against teams in the RPI’s top 100. No team played a harder non-conference schedule. WVU, meanwhile, was at No. 242 in non-conference strength of schedule and No. 119 overall.
There is no rank higher than No. 1, and it isn’t often a top-ranked ranked team is handled the way the Bears were before a sellout crowd of 14,632. It would be harder to overlook what WVU accomplished than it would be to overcome the Mountaineers when they’re revved up like they were for Baylor
“I think if they didn’t say it about us before, they’re definitely going to try to say it now,” said guard Tarik Phillip. “But we’ve got to keep playing. That’s just half of what we can do. If we all play together and play as hard as we do, it’s tough to beat us — very tough.”
The Bears were averaging 12 turnovers a game and finished three games with eight turnovers or less. They had 16 in the first half against WVU and finished with 29, the most ever committed by a WVU opponent in Big 12 play. The Mountaineers, who stole the ball 15 times and whose relentlessness or reputation or both combined to cause a comedic batch of additional errors, scored a point for every turnover.
“We’ve come down here and had success in the past, and I have to say this team on film has been very impressive,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, who won games on the road against the Mountaineers in 2013-15. “But in person, definitely the best pressing team Coach Huggins has had. Things we’ve done in the past that have been successful weren’t. I think they’ve improved their press. They’ve gotten a lot more effective with it, and they just make you feel uneasy and uncomfortable.”
By the end, the Bears were fading away, falling behind by 21 points with 6:35 remaining and a game-worst 26 points with 2:29 to go. If not for some permissive WVU defense against drives and second shots late, the Bears were in danger of the worst loss by a No. 1 team since 1968. Miami beat Duke 90-63 in 2013, but UCLA beat Houston by 32 points 45 years earlier.
As it was, the Mountaineers spent the final few minutes styling and celebrating. Daxter Miles dunked a layup attempt Phillip missed, but he hung on the rim a touch too long to earn a technical foul and a seat on the bench. Sagaba Konate blocked two shots at the rim and waved his finger dismissively as he ran up the court after the second one. Jevon Carter hit a slide-step jumper from a favorite spot on the right side of the court. Nathan Adrian dunked to finish a breakaway. Beetle Bolden made a 3 on the only shot he took in the two minutes he played.
Every play was met with a roar from the crowd larger than the one before it, and a game that was close not too much earlier ended with fans streaming from the stands to the floor.
“My hope is we get to the point where it’s expected,” Huggins said. “I’m OK with the students celebrating and having fun – and they were terrific [Tuesday], by the way, just absolutely fantastic. We just need to get them to do that all the time. I want it to become expected. That’s when we’ve kind of arrived and we’re pretty good.”
There were nervous moments before the celebration, though. WVU took a 15-4 lead at the 13:11 mark of the first half, and that’s now 13 wins and no losses when the lead reaches double figures. But Baylor, despite all the mistakes, lingered and cut the deficit to five points in the closing seconds of the half.
WVU nabbed the momentum when a play designed for Lamont West was covered up by Baylor and salvaged by Adrian. He screened for West and then stepped forward to just above the free-throw line, where Carter, who had 17 points and seven assists, found him for an open jumper and among the biggest points of the career-best 22 Adrian scored.
“I take that one a lot,” Adrian said
Down 39-32 at halftime, Baylor scored to open the second half, but Brandon Watkins, who finished with 11 points, had back-to-back baskets, and Miles made a 3 for his first points of the game after finding foul trouble in the first half. WVU guarded everyone and everything on the next possession to force a long jumper from 6-foot-10 Johnathan Motley, the team’s leading scorer who missed 7 of 10 shots. His shot was long, and Carter fed Esa Ahmad for a layup inside. Ahmad grabbed a steal in transition, and Carter passed to Adrian, and Adrian passed to Ahmad for another layup.
The Bears called timeout with 15:11 remaining, and despite all their work to stay in the game, the 50-37 deficit was the largest of the game at that point. It was back to a nine-point game when Adrian made a 3 from up top after missing 10 of his previous 12 attempts. Adrian, who had two 3s in the second and third games and never again after that, added another six minutes later for a 19-point lead.
The lead was never smaller the rest of the way, and WVU cruised to its second win against a top-10 team following the win at No. 6 Virginia to end a 24-game home winning streak in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Critics are going to be critics,” Carter said. “They’re going to do their job. That’s why they have a job. We’re just going to step up to the plate and attack the battle every time.”
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