MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Sometimes life at the top of the rankings is not always what it’s cracked up to be.
Baylor, which reached No. 1 in both major polls on Monday for the first time in school history, ran into “Press” Virginia on Tuesday night in Morgantown and the 10th-ranked Mountaineers ran away with a surprisingly easy 89-68 victory over the Bears.
It was the second consecutive year West Virginia has knocked off No. 1 at home in January. Last season, it was top-ranked Kansas which succumbed to the Mountaineers, 74-63.
“I thought our double teams were better, Nate was really, really good and we had a lot of energy,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, now 2-2 versus No. 1 at West Virginia and 3-4 during his 35-year career against college basketball’s top-ranked team.
Adrian scored a career-high 22 points, grabbed six rebounds, made three steals and handed out two assists in a terrific all-around performance. The Morgantown High graduate made seven-of-10 from the field, knocked down a pair of 3s and also hit six-of-nine from the free throw line in one of the best all-around efforts in his 119-game college basketball career.
Carter, too, stepped up and played wonderfully by scoring 17, handing out seven assists and producing a game-high five steals. Carter hounded Baylor’s guards the entire night and was a major reason why the Bears turned the ball over a staggering 29 times.
“JC was terrific,” said Huggins.
Eight of the 11 players who got into the game tonight for Baylor had multiple turnovers, including six by forward Ishmail Wainright.
West Virginia (14-2, 3-1) led Baylor (15-1, 3-1) throughout, and the Mountaineers had plenty of chances to extend their lead in the first half, but the Bears stuck around by beating West Virginia on the glass. The rebounding disparity was 12 in the Baylor's favor, and that minimized to some extent the 16 turnovers they committed in the first 20 minutes of play.
The Mountaineers began the game strong and took an early 11-point lead before Baylor began chipping away, gradually reducing its deficit to four with 2:31 remaining.
Back-to-back baskets by Terry Maston and Wendell Mitchell trimmed the deficit to five with a minute left in the half.
Then, a couple of empty possessions gave Huggins an opportunity to call timeout with 20 seconds left to draw up one last shot. He sent 3-point shooters Lamont West
, Beetle Bolden and James Long
onto the floor, but it was Adrian who ended up getting the shot at the elbow to put the Mountaineers ahead by seven at the break.
“Great coaching,” joked Huggins.
In the second half, Baylor scored first on a Wainright layup but Watkins answered with a jumper. Another Watkins jumper pushed the lead to nine and soon it was 13 on a quick 7-0 spurt, capped by a pair of Esa Ahmad
A Watkins dunk made it 57-43, and then a Tarik Phillip
jumper with 9:36 remaining gave West Virginia a 15-point advantage. A Miles Jr. follow-up dunk pushed the margin to 21, but he was called for a technical foul for hanging on the rim, giving Baylor free throws at the other end.
By this time, however, the game was well in hand with just 6:35 remaining.
West Virginia’s biggest lead was 26 points, twice, before Huggins began emptying his bench.
Watkins had another strong performance, scoring 11 points and grabbing four rebounds, while Phillip came off the bench to add 11.
West Virginia shot 47.8 percent from the floor, 45 percent from 3, and finished 14-of-23 from the free throw line for 60.9 percent. In the first half, though, the Mountaineers made just five-of-11 from the line.
“There was no one in our locker room that didn’t think we shouldn’t win,” noted Huggins. “My hope is we get to the point where it’s expected, you know, rather than celebrating.
“I’m okay with the students celebrating, having fun - and they were terrific by the way, but I want it to become expected.”
It was an all-around difficult night for the Bears, which came into tonight’s game with some very impressive victories on its resume. Baylor beat Oregon by 17, Michigan State by 15, Louisville by three and Xavier by 15 outside of league play. The three victories to begin Big 12 play were against Oklahoma, Iowa State and Oklahoma State.
Tonight, however, Baylor nearly doubled its season-high turnover total of 16 committed in wins against VCU and Sam Houston State.
Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., Al Freeman and Maston scored 10 each for the Bears.
“We’ve come down here, had success in the past and I have to say this team on film has been very impressive,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “But in person definitely it is the best pressing team Coach Huggins has had. Things we’ve done in the past that have been successful weren’t and I think they’ve improved their press.
“They have gotten more effective with it and they just make you feel uneasy, uncomfortable, and for us to have 29 turnovers … if you would have said before the game you’re going to have 29 turnovers, I wouldn’t have believed you - even knowing how good their pressure is, but they just took us out of everything.”
Tonight’s victory over Baylor is the fifth time in school history West Virginia has defeated No. 1. The other instances were against North Carolina (1957), Duke (1966), UNLV (1983) and Kansas (2016).
A sellout crowd of 14,632 watched the game.
West Virginia returns to the road this Saturday to face Texas in Austin. That game will tip off at 4 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ESPN2.