West Virginia Takes Down No. 1 Baylor

Mountaineers press strong, force 29 TOs

West Virginia forward Brandon Watkins (20) dunks the ball on a fast break during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

MORGANTOWN — The last time the top ranked men’s basketball team in the country paid a visit to the Coliseum on the campus of West Virginia University then-No. 1 Kansas left town with 74-63 setback. No. 10 WVU was looking to do the same thing Tuesday night when No. 1 Baylor invaded.

In a contest which pitted the Big 12’s top defense (Baylor) against its top offense (WVU), it was the Mountaineers (14-2, 4-1 Big 12) No. 3 rated defense which made the difference as it forced 29 turnovers by the Bears on the way to posting an 89-68 victory.

It was the second straight year that the No. 1 ranked team in the country came to Morgantown only to go home with a loss. Baylor, now 15-1 and 3-1 in league play, took over the top spot in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls only to unbeaten streak come to an end by a Mountaineer team led by senior Nathan Adrian’s game-high 22 points.

“We thought that they might have some trouble,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said. “We played with a lot of energy out there tonight. JC (Jevon Carter) was all over the place and when you are playing with that much energy it makes it hard on any team.”

Joining Adrian, who pulled down a team-high six rebounds, dished out a pair of assists and came away with three steals, in double figures was junior Jevon Carter (17) and seniors Brandon Watkins (11) and Tarik Phillips (11).

“That’s the strength of this team,” Huggins said. “You can’t expect one player to lead us. Dax (Miles) only had five points, but Nate (Adrian) picked up the slack and scored 22. That kind of scoring will only continue to make us tough to defend.”

Baylor, which travels to Kansas State on Saturday, received 10 points each from Jo Lual-Acuil, Al Freeman and Terry Maston. The Bears’ seven-footer — Lual-Acuil — added 12 rebounds to finish with a double-double, but it was WVU’s 15 steals which proved to be the difference.

From the opening tip West Virginia’s pressure was evident as the Bears, the Big 12’s top defensive team, allowing only 58.3 points per game, were forced into six turnovers in the first four and one half minutes. The Mountaineers made the most of their extra opportunities as a triple by Carter and an inside bucket by Adrian gave the hosts an 8-4 lead at the first media break.

The Bears continued to turn the ball over as the Old Gold and Blue pushed its lead to 11, 15-4, on a Elijah Macon hook shot with 13:11 left in the half. However, Baylor then went on a 6-0 run on a bucket by Jonathan Motley and two by Lual-Acuil to cut the deficit to five, 15-10, at the 11:48 mark.

Huggins team — the conference’s top offensive team, averaging 90.1 points per game — continued to force the issue defensively, forcing the Bears to depend on players to handle the ball in the open court that are not accustomed to performing that task, and a coast-to-coast layup by Carter pushed the Mountaineers lead back to eight, 24-16, with 7:53 remaining in the opening half.

West Virginia continued to have an impact over the half’s final seven minutes as the hosts took a seven point, 39-32, lead into the intermission. However, the margin could have been even larger except for some horrible shooting by the Old Gold and Blue at the charity stripe – where it made only 5 of 11 shots — while Baylor’s size allowed it to amass a 25-13 advantage on the boards.

Two inside buckets by Watkins ignited an 11-5 spurt by the Mountaineers as the second half got underway, which concluded with a steal by Carter which was turned into two points when Adrian found a wide open Ahmad under the Baylor basket to give the hosts a 13 point, 50-37, lead.

Baylor sliced the deficit to nine, 52-43, on a pair of free throws by Maston, but WVU answered quickly with a triple from Adrian to push the lead back to double figures, 55-43, with 11:56 left in the game.

However, the visitors again went cold from the field and allowed West Virginia to go on a 10-4 surge which culminated on a Carter triple with 7:36 showing on the clock.

Other notes of interest

∫ On the football scene seventh year head coach Dana Holgorsen picked up three more early signees as Morgantown’s Maverick Wolfley, South Charleston’s Derrick Pitts and Tevin Bush from Landry-Walker High School in New Orleans have elected to forego their final semester of high school eligibility to begin their college careers early at WVU. The trio will join seven other early signees when the Mountaineers begin spring practice.

∫ More news from football as the final Associated Press poll came out and WVU finished with a No. 18 ranking.

∫ Parkersburg South’s Southern Belles provided the sellout crowd some high-flying kicks during halftime.

Contact Jim Butta at mountaineersman@outlook.com