Tuesday night brought more technicals and, of course, another lead that threatened to vanish, but this time No. 21 West Virginia didn’t unravel.
Esa Ahmad re-asserted himself with 15 points, Sagaba Konate looked impenetrable around the rim and the Mountaineers rode a huge first half to salvage a split on their two-game road swing by whipping Baylor 71-60 in Waco.
Konate finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, narrowly missing a triple-double. His nine blocks equaled a WVU single-game record and exacerbated Baylor’s cold-shooting.
“After he has blocked three or four you start looking for him,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “You’re not looking at the rim because you’re watching to see where Sags is.”
Jevon Carter also added 15 points as the Mountaineers (20-8, 9-6) shook off Saturday’s crushing loss at Kansas in which they blew a late 12-point lead.
Sure, there came another second-half stretch when Baylor — once down by 28 — seemed to be surging toward a monumental comeback. A 21-5 run sliced the cushion to 55-43 with 8:16 left and the Mountaineers, having endured more than 5 scoreless minutes, faced an expiring shot clock on the other end.
That became the cue for Daxter Miles to make perhaps the game’s biggest shot: A top-of-the-arc 3 that became a four-point play when he was fouled by Nuni Omot.
“That was big because they had some momentum going,” Huggins said.
Frigid 33-percent shooting doomed Baylor (17-11, 7-8), which saw its five-game winning streak snapped and its NCAA bubble case dinged. Not even King McClure’s 27-footer in the final moments against a disinterested defense could save the Bears from a season-worst percentage.
Konate factored heavily into the misses from the paint and his teammates pitched in with four additional blocks. In the first half, former walk-on Logan Routt stuffed a point-blank attempt by Baylor 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil.
The 13 blocked shots were the most ever by West Virginia against a Division I opponent and one shy of the program record set against Ohio Wesleyan in December 1982.
“Their physicality really bothered us,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “First half, we turned it over way too much, missed way too many shots. But, I thought Konate, with his nine blocks, really affected the game. We needed to do a better job of getting into the paint and kicking to open people or dumping down to bigs.”
Lual-Acuil had 16 points and 10 rebounds, while point guard Manu Lecomte scored 12 but was once again closely checked by “Press Virginia.” In two head-to-head losses this season Lecomte has made only 6-of-23 shots.
Lecomte had all five of his team’s assists as Baylor was forced to rely on one-on-one drives.
All 10 of Beetle Bolden’s points came during the opening half when West Virginia led by 22. They stretched the margin to 50-22 when Konate dunked a putback.
West Virginia maintain its third-place spot in the Big 12, two games in the loss column behind Kansas and Texas Tech.
Baylor had knocked off both of the conference frontrunners in its previous two home games, but didn’t have the same fight in this one.
The 40-18 halftime deficit marked the widest for the Bears all season. They made only 5-of-26 shots and lost 12 turnovers, one of those a steal by Bolden leading to a runout layup by Carter seconds before the intermission horn.
Ahmad, after scoring only five points combined in his previous two games, broke through for 10 in the first 15 minutes. He beat defenders with slashing drives, earning six free throws, and sank his first 3-point basket in 17 days.
Playing 33 minutes that were second on the team only to the tireless Carter, Ahmad added three assists, a steal and a block. His only turnover occurred on a fastbreak layup attempt when a trailing defender bodied the ball loose.
“That’s the best Esa’s been since the Texas Tech game — his first game back,” Huggins said. “Esa was really focused today.”
West Virginia also made 18-of-22 free throws, reversing the controversial storyline from the loss at Kansas when it attempted only two.
There came a spree of late-game technicals, though none were charged to Huggins. Official Gerry Pollard handed out double-techs to Konate and Terry Maston for a brief chest-to-chest stare-down with 7:32 remaining.
Far more innocent-looking was a smiling exchange between Ahmad and Omot — as the players bent over the lane for a free throw — that resulted in Pat Adams doling out double-Ts.
Adams also gave Baylor coach Scott Drew a technical with 6:23 left and the home team trailing 61-43.
“I made sure the officials knew my thoughts on the physicality,” Drew said.
“It’s hard, because you get one player chirping and then another player chirps back. At the end of the day, I always say catch the first. If it’s us, we deserve a technical. If it’s them, they deserve the technical. But eventually, if someone’s chirping, someone’s going to chirp back. If you catch that first guy, that solves the problem.”