Story by Ben Everett | Sports Writer, Video by Branson Hardcastle | Broadcast Reporter
Baylor men’s basketball came to Kansas City, Mo. looking to cement its status as an NCAA Tournament team, but following a 78-65 loss to No. 3 seeded West Virginia in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament, the Bears’ postseason outlook is all but clear.
Baylor (18-14, 8-10) dropped to 1-4 in their last five games after winning five straight games in February, a stretch of success that placed them squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble following a 12-10 start to the season.
The West Virginia press, Baylor head coach Scott Drew argued, was the catalyst in the loss.
“They caused us 22 turnovers,” Drew said. “When you get down double digits against West Virginia its hard to come back.”
The Bears held an 18-9 lead 11 minutes into the game, but the Mountaineers’ defensive pressure started to set in and the turnovers kept compounding for Baylor.
Maston said West Virginia’s defense is a battle both physically and emotionally.
“Fatigue and frustration sets in especially when you start to turn it over a lot,” Maston said.
Drew said the Mountaineers are a bad matchup for the Bears, hence the season sweep.
“There are certain teams you match up better with,” Drew said, “We’re glad if we never have to play them again this year.”
Baylor will sweat out selection Sunday, hoping to receive a program record fifth straight NCAA Tournament bid.
The Bears were listed as an 11-seed in ESPN’s latest bracketology, but that was before the first round exit in Kansas City.
Lecomte said he believes the team is a tournament team, but that decision is not up to them.
“I think we’re good enough, Lecomte said. “But it doesn’t matter now we just gotta wait and see.”
With the game tied at five early in the first half, senior forward Nuni Omot air balled a corner three, but responded with a block on West Virginia’s Esa Ahmad before draining his next shot, a corner three-pointer, to put Baylor up 8-5 at the 15:31 mark of the first half.
Baylor freshman forward Mark Vital missed a layup on a 1-on-1 fast break, and junior guard Jake Lindsey followed suit on the succeeding possession with a miss of his own at the rim, but a hook shot by senior center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. gave the Bears an 11-7 lead with 11:56 remaining in the half.
Lual-Acuil, Jr. took Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jevon Carter out of the play with a hard screen, freeing up Lecomte for a layup as Baylor held an 18-10 lead with eight minutes left in the first half.
Carter beat the shot clock buzzer with a deep 3-pointer, starting an 11-2 run for the Mountaineers that was capped off by a breakaway dunk by Ahmad to put West Virginia up 21-20 at the 3:54 mark.
Baylor continued to struggle on offense, making just one field goal in the final nine minutes of the half and Carter drained a half-court heave at the buzzer to give the Mountaineers a 29-23 halftime lead.
“That three-pointer just killed them right there with it,” Carter said of his momentum-swinging shot.
The Bears quickly cut the lead to two in the second half, but West Virginia turned up the intensity on the press and Mountaineer’s senior guard Daxter Miles, Jr. drained three threes in a row to give West Virginia a 40-27 lead at the 16:32 mark.
Junior guard King McClure provided a spark off the bench, knocking down a corner three and weaving his way to the basket for a layup, but the Mountaineers maintained a 48-36 lead at the under-12 timeout.
Ahmad threw down an and-one dunk over Lual-Acuil, Jr. to excite the crowd and Miles, Jr. knocked down his fourth three-pointer of the night to extend West Virginia’s lead to 59-42 with 7:02 remaining in the game.
Lecomte scored 16 of his 27 points in the final seven minutes, but the late push was not enough as Baylor fell 78-65.
Baylor fell in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament for the second straight season as the Bears lost to Kansas State 70-64 in last year’s tournament.
Baylor will find out its fate when the tournament field is revealed on Selection Sunday beginning at 5 p.m. The show will air on TBS.