By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
No. 11 Baylor looked to end its late-season woes against No. 10 West Virginia Monday night on Senior Night at the Ferrell Center.
With senior guard Ishmail Wainright playing his last game at the Ferrell Center in a Baylor uniform, that is exactly what happened.
Junior forward Johnathan Motley led all scorers with 23 points and eight rebounds, including hitting all 11 of his free throw attempts as Baylor defeated West Virginia 71-62.
For Baylor head coach Scott Drew, he couldn’t have been happier for the Bears’ season finale at the Ferrell Center.
“When you draw up Senior Night, this is how it is supposed to be,” Drew said. “Two top-11 teams playing, we’re a man down, we had 29 turnovers with a point guard, don’t have a point guard tonight and we find a way win. That’s a tribute to the teammates’ desire to win for Ish [Wainright].”
Wainright finished with seven points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals in front of an extremely appreciative home crowd at the Ferrell Center. He was honored in a special post-game presentation along with Baylor’s two senior team managers.
“It was extremely special, my last one. It was a great run, four years in the making,” Wainright said. “Winning is always fun. It feels good to win. This win gives us confidence and motivation moving forward.”
Trailing 49-41 with 8:45 left in the second half, Baylor used a 16-2 surge to erase an eight-point deficit and turn it into a six-point advantage at 57-51. Motley led the charge in that span-scoring seven points, including the three-point play on a slam dunk to ignite the run.
Baylor continued to frustrate West Virginia with its defense and ability to convert baskets late in the shot clock. The Bears without starting junior guard Manu Lecomte due to a knee injury, used a point guard by committee strategy, rotating sophomore guard Jake Lindsey, Wainright, junior guard Al Freeman and redshirt freshman guard Wendell Mitchell to handle the ball against the press.
The Bears were sloppy at times while under heavy duress, committing 18 turnovers. However, compared to the 29 they committed in Morgantown, W. Va., it was good enough to get the job done.
Drew said the bench’s energy was crucial in the victory.
“Couldn’t have won without him [Wainright]. You could say that about everyone on the team,” Drew said. “Everyone contributed; the bench was really into it. That’s the biggest complement you can give Ish because they genuinely wanted to send him out with a win.”
Freeman and junior forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. both finished in double figures with 12 points and 11 points respectively for Baylor to help Motley on the offensive end.
Baylor opened the game on a 12-3 run, handling the pressure from West Virginia and converting easy baskets in the paint from Lual-Acuil Jr. The Bears also held the Mountaineers to one of their first eight field goals from the floor.
However, West Virginia quickly began to settle in as it manufactured a 10-3 run to gain its first lead at 18-15. The Mountaineer guards began to find seams in the Baylor zone defense and get to the basket for layups. The conversions on the offensive end led the full court press becoming more effective having been set up off a made basket instead of a miss.
The next eight minutes of the first half were back and forth with West Virginia claiming a 30-28 lead at the break.
Despite forcing 18 turnovers and converting those miscues into 20 points, West Virginia could not recover from Baylor’s big second-half surge. Foul trouble played a major factor as the Mountaineers committed 29 fouls over the course of the game.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins said his team’s issue was tentativeness and rebounding, as the Mountaineers were outrebounded 43-23.
“We got really tentative,” Huggins said. “We were tentative defensively. They just beat us to death on the glass. We’re usually a pretty good rebounding team, and they worked us pretty good on the glass.”
West Virginia was also limited to just three of 15 from beyond the arc. Junior guard Jevon Carter led the Mountaineers with 18 points, while senior guar Tarik Phillip added 12 and junior forward Elijah Macon chipped in with 11 points.
Mountaineers’ senior forward Nathan Adrian, West Virginia’s third leading scorer at 10.4 points per game, was held to just two points on one-of-five shooting as he battled foul trouble all night, playing only 16 minutes for West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins.
The loss drops No. 10 West Virginia to 23-7 overall and 11-6 in Big 12 action. The Mountaineers will return home to host No. 24 Iowa State at 6 p.m. Friday.
With the win, Baylor improves to 24-6 and 11-6 overall in the conference. The victory also avenges an 89-68 loss to the Mountaineers back on Jan. 10 when Baylor was ranked No. 1.
The Bears will complete their conference slate when they travel to Austin to take on Texas at 3 p.m. Saturday. The game will be aired on ESPN. With a win over Texas and a West Virginia win over Iowa State, Baylor can still wrap up the No. 2 seed in the Big 12 tournament.