MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — They came, they saw, they stormed.
West Virginia finished the 2020 regular season with a roar, storming back from an early nine-point hole to take down No. 4 Baylor, 76-64, at WVU Coliseum.
Students rushed the floor to join the team for a raucous celebration of a win that should go a long way in protecting West Virginia’s seeding for the NCAA tournament. WVU also assured itself of starting the Big 12 tournament next Thursday, avoiding the potential for playing four games in four days.
“I wanted to play the way we’ve played here for most of my time here,” said WVU coach Bob Huggins. “Where we are physical, where we guard and where we rebound. I think we did all of those things well today.”
Emmitt Matthews led the Mountaineers (21-10, 9-9 Big 12) with 18 points. Matthews came off the bench for the first time all season. There was nothing strategic about the move — Bob Huggins gamed his starting lineup to include seniors Logan Routt and Chase Harler for their final home games.
Regardless of the reasoning, Matthews responded in a big way, rarely getting outhustled to a loose ball. He finished 6 of 11 from the field, including 2 of 3 from three-point range.
Baylor coach Scott Drew tipped his cap to Matthews after the game.
“Emmitt Matthews Jr. really gave them a lift today,” Drew said. “He’s averaging three points in conference, and he has 18. It wasn’t like we screwed up. His first shot was a bank shot and a tough shot. He made great plays.”
Matthews entered the game shooting a grisly 5 of 29 (17.2 percent) from behind the arc in Big 12 play.
“Emmitt went through a prolonged shooting slump, and I think that affects you,” Huggins said. “He’s put a lot of time in. When you see the ball go in, it really does heighten your enthusiasm.”
For the second straight game, West Virginia sealed the win at the free-throw line.
As Baylor (26-4, 15-3) attempted to hack its way back into the lead, the Mountaineers responded by making 22 of 30 free throws in the second half — 22 of 26 (84.6 percent) when one factors out Derek Culver’s four misses. West Virginia was 15 of 17 over the final 2:23 of game time.
Oscar Tshiebwe scored half of his 16 points at the line, though that’s not what anyone at the Coliseum is likely to remember about Saturday’s performance. On an emotional level, Tshiebwe put the game to bed when he bounded up from a flat-footed position to throw down a monster jam.
Though West Virginia only led 53-46 with 3:56 left to play, the ensuing blast of volume made it obvious that Baylor would be playing uphill the rest of the way. Two possessions later, Deuce McBride threw down a tomahawk dunk of his own to erase any doubt that it was West Virginia’s day. McBride finished with 12 points.
Tshiebwe also grabbed 12 rebounds, recording his 10th double-double this season.
By the numbers
The first half was marked by wild runs. Baylor began the game on a 9-0 run in the first five minutes, but West Virginia responded by going on a 19-2 run over the next nine minutes… Baylor guard Jared Butler led all scorers with 21 points. The Bears needed a win and a Kansas loss for their first conference crown since 1950, but got neither… WVU dominated bench scoring, 51-6… The Mountaineers also scored 21 points off of 17 turnovers and won the rebounding battle 42-28… West Virginia improved to 6-7 against teams in the top quadrant of the NCAA’s NET rankings, which is an important metric for tournament seeding.
Harler takes himself out of the game
Chase Harler one-upped his own senior day by proposing to his girlfriend, Lindsey, right after he was honored before his final home game.
Harler had Huggins’ blessing before popping the question.
“Chase decided to kill two birds with one stone,” Huggins said. “Our guys were real excited about that.”
The future Harlers have been dating since eighth grade.
As Harler recounted of the proposal, “She said ‘Are you serious?’ I said, ‘Well, this isn’t a joke.'”
West Virginia opens the Big 12 tournament on Thursday in Kansas City. The Mountaineers will be the No. 6 seed, facing No. 3 Oklahoma. Both teams finished 9-9 in conference play, but the Sooners won the tiebreaker by virtue of beating the Mountaineers twice.
The game is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. ET, but as the fourth game of the day is subject to a much later tip.