Shorthanded Mountaineers play better in loss to Baylor

MORGANTOWN — For the first time since Feb. 2, West Virginia was able to find some sort of shooting touch.

The Mountaineers shot 42.6 percent (23 of 54) from the floor in their 82-75 loss against Baylor on Saturday.

It was the most field goals and the team’s highest shooting percentage in a game since WVU defeated Oklahoma at the WVU Coliseum five games ago.

“Our guys did a good job of pushing the ball in transition, which put more pressure on their defense,” said WVU guard Jordan McCabe, who finished with 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting. “We’ve been talking about it all year. This isn’t football. We can’t come down and walk the ball up and run three sets back-to-back-to-back. We can get so much more in transition with the guys that we have.”

The Mountaineers (10-17, 2-12 Big 12) held two different seven-point leads in the second half, before Baylor sealed the outcome with a 16-5 run to end the game.

West Virginia counted on several younger players in the game, because it was without the services of James “Beetle” Bolden, Sagaba Konate and Brandon Knapper, who sat out with injuries.

“They had a great game plan today and they all stepped up and made great plays,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They made shots and you’re thinking, ‘Man, is this their day?’ You have to credit our guys for continually fighting.”

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was optimistic after the game, saying he believes his young players are getting closer to turning things around.

“I think we can get this thing turned and win some games here the rest of the year,” Huggins said.

Vital was vital

At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Baylor forward Mark Vital basically became the Bears’ center once Flo Thamba and Freddie Gillespie were in early foul trouble.

Vital played 33 minutes, mostly guarding West Virginia forwards Derek Culver and Andrew Gordon.

He finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds after entering the game averaging 6.3 points and 6.8 rebounds.

“Is he a senior?” Huggins asked in the postgame press conference. “No, a sophomore. That’s a big sophomore. I said before that he may be the first MVP of the league who only scores, whatever, seven or eight points a game.

“He’s really good, He’s unselfish. He’s a great team guy who makes big plays for them.”

Mason shut down

Baylor’s leading scorer, Makai Mason, who scored 29 points against the Mountaineers earlier this season, was held to just four points on Saturday on 0-for-7 shooting.

“Makai obviously didn’t have his best game,” Drew said. “But, down the stretch, having him on the floor is always great.”

Mason played on a sore toe. Baylor was also without starting forward Tristan Clark, who is out for the season with knee injury and guard Jake Lindsey is out for the season after hip surgery.

Baylor guard King McClure also missed the game with a knee injury.

Stepping up for Baylor was Mario Kegler (23 points and Devontee Bandoo (22 points). Both players combined for 31 points in Baylor’s 85-73 win against West Virginia on Jan. 21.

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