MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — This time there was no court-storming. No wild celebration. No upset victory to remember for a lifetime.
It was back to reality for West Virginia on Monday night.
The Mountaineers woke up from their dream of knocking off Kansas and fell hard to Baylor, 85-73, in front of 9,936 fans inside the WVU Coliseum.
Whatever momentum had been by the Mountaineers after Saturday’s upset was quickly wiped clean somewhere between Baylor’s 12 offensive rebounds, 16 second-chance points and six 3-pointers. And that was just from the first half that saw Baylor (12-6, 4-2 Big 12) come out with more energy and run out to a 17-point lead.
“We didn’t come out ready,” West Virginia forward Esa Ahmad said. “We weren’t ready. We got hit with a couple of back cuts. They rebounded the ball better than us. They had better effort. I feel like we dwelled on that [Kansas] win and we were living in the past. We weren’t really up for Baylor tonight.”
It was supposed to be the Mountaineers (9-10, 1-6) dominating the smaller Bears, who are without sophomore forward Tristan Clark — the team’s second leading scorer and leading rebounder — for the rest of the season.
It was supposed to the Mountaineers pouncing on Baylor after taking down the Jayhawks two days earlier at home, but instead, Baylor took its momentum from beating then-No. 8 Texas Tech and carried it all the way to Morgantown.
Makai Mason, a graduate transfer from Yale, gave the Mountaineers’ defense an education on fundamental play.
Mason, who once torched Baylor for 31 points in the 2016 NCAA tournament before transferring, scored a season-high 29 points and added four rebounds and four assists, as the smaller Bears ended a three-game losing streak against WVU and won their first game in the WVU Coliseum since 2015.
“He was poised and he had the ball at all times,” West Virginia guard Beetle Bolden said. “He was under control when he drove the ball. He hit some tough shots. When a guy is having a night like that, sometimes there’s nothing you can do.”
The undersized Bears’ lineup didn’t keep them from rebounding the ball. Baylor finished with 20 second-chance points in all with the majority coming off rebounding its own missed free throws.
The Bears held a 25-17 rebounding advantage at halftime. In the opening minutes of the second half, that ballooned up to 33-20.
“The little things aren’t exactly little in this game,” Bolden said. “Those rebounds were all pretty big. They were able to score a lot of second-chance points. There wasn’t anything little about that.”
The Mountaineers finally caught a spark in the second half through its full-court pressure that has been non-existent since beating Pitt in early December and also from the play of Brandon Knapper.
Knapper sat out the Kansas game after having a series of bad plays in the previous games.
That did not stop him against the Bears, as he turned steals into transition points. He got off 10 shots in just 12 minutes of action and had 11 of his 15 points in that time that helped the Mountaineers get within nine, 69-60, with 5:50 remaining.
A hot shooting streak by James “Beetle” Bolden got the Mountaineers even closer, 73-65, but Baylor kept making the right plays down the stretch and Bolden (22 points) eventually fouled out with 2:44 remaining.
Mario Kegler, who added 18 points and seven rebounds, beat the Mountaineers back down the floor in transition and scored an and-one 3-pointer that gave Baylor a 76-65 cushion and Baylor went 15 of 17 from the foul line in the second half.
“The irony is, in the first half, we were on fire from three and the second half we couldn’t make a three,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “First half, we couldn’t make a free throw. Second half, we were really good from the free-throw line. Shooting comes and goes.”
The loss further cements the Mountaineers’ last-place standing in the Big 12. Hoping a two-game winning streak could get them within reach of eighth or ninth place, WVU must now face a tough reality that it is the worst team in the league with a difficult road ahead.
The Mountaineers will travel to No. 1-ranked Tennessee on Saturday in the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge before going to No. 24 Iowa State.
Ahmad added nine points and seven rebounds for the Mountaineers, who were out-rebounded, 45-35, for the game. While WVU forced 18 turnovers, Baylor scored more points off turnovers, 16-13.
Huggins said West Virginia killed its own chances by shooting 10-of-26 on layups.
“We missed point-blank shots,” Huggins said. “I don’t understand how we can continually miss the shots that we miss.”
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