MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With 2 minutes left and the Mountaineers savoring a 26-point lead on No. 1 Baylor, euphoric students descended from the upper concourse, aiming to join their court-storming peers.
But a security staffer blocked the steps down to the Coliseum floor, by grabbing the railings on each side, splaying himself across the aisle and pushing back against the surge. (Brought to mind the futility of John Candy trying to keep that grizzly out of his cabin.)
“LET US THROUGH!” the students chanted.
When this one-man security fence refused, some of the kids taunted “NO MEANS YES!” — a new spin on their earlier chants of “NO MEANS NO!” in mockery of Baylor’s sexual-assault scandal.
A trickle of students penetrated one-by-one, some wriggling beneath the guard’s outstretched arms, a couple even detouring across press row. But mostly, our Brave Protector of Arena Protocol held tight and defied the mob, a courageous undertaking considering he was only a slip-of-the-grip away from face-planting down the steps and being trampled like a victim of Pamplona.
Not sure whom I felt more sympathy for — the guy guarding those steps or the Baylor players trying to guard the basketball.
Neither held out for long.
Baylor lost five turnovers before its first basket, and four more miscues before a second shot went in. That 15-game win streak vaporized because the Bears eventually turned over the ball 29 times out of 79 possessions, a number too absurd, too out-of-character for coach Scott Drew to fathom.
“I wouldn’t have believed it, even knowing how good their pressure is,” he said.
Before Tuesday night’s 89-68 loss, Baylor committed 10 turnovers against Oregon and Xavier, nine vs. Louisville and seven against Michigan State. That adds up to the nation’s second-toughest schedule so far, though none of it readied the Bears for the mania of Morgantown.
“Press Virginia is real,” said Baylor guard Jake Lindsey, sounding like the son of an NBA general manager because he is.
“Credit to Coach Huggins and this guards. They do a good job scheming and knowing personnel, and they come at you in waves.”
In 27 minutes off the bench Lindsey finished with three turnovers and three assists, which looked exceptional compared to the rest of Baylor’s regulars, all of whom produced negative ratios. That made for a stunning totality — 29 turnovers and 12 assists — after the Bears entered the game 18th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Drew left the arena adamant that Year 3 of “Press Virginia” is the most disruptive version yet.
“Things we’ve done in the past that have been successful weren’t,” he said.
Bears forward Terry Maston played 13 minutes and sounded thankful for no more, coming away impressed by West Virginia’s relentlessness.
“How active they were, how in-shape they are,” he said. “No one looked tired. No one was bending over. They just kept coming and kept coming.”
Baylor brought 7-footer Jo Lual Acuil and 6-foot-10 Johnathan Motley — both agile, both sporting spectacular wingspans — yet West Virginia out-blocked the visitors 6-4. In one telling sequence, Motley steamed toward a two-handed dunk only to have freshman Sagaba Konate deny it nose-to-nose at the rim.
“We just didn’t want to get punked around,” said forward Brandon Watkins, WVU’s only semblance of a basket protector until the quick-jumping Konate arrived on campus.
Watkins’ offensive development was noteworthy Tuesday, as he took it at Baylor’s big men. When they sagged off, he drained two 15-foot jumpers, finishing 5-of-6 from the floor for 11 points — his seventh double-figures output in 93 career games.
Even Elijah Macon returned from the land of lethargy, giving 16 aggressive minutes that Huggins called “far and away the best he has played.”
Against the top-ranked flavor of the week in college basketball, West Virginia’s assault never waned. Nathan Adrian surpassed his nightly quota of floorburns with the bonus of a career-high 22 points. Jevon Carter baited Baylor into risky passes and made precious few himself, finishing with seven assists, two turnovers and 17 points in 33 minutes.
Virtually unnoticed was Esa Ahmad managing a mere eight points, his fewest since the season opener. Yet Press Virginia is real because it won by 21 anyway, thanks to its leading scorer redirecting his donations to defense (three steals, two rejections).
Through a haze of travels, strips and deflections, Baylor had not been so flummoxed and disorganized.
“They just took us out of everything,” Drew said, the No. 1 spot included.