By Will Chamblee | Sports Writer
No. 3 Baylor basketball bounced-back from Saturday’s loss against Kansas with a thrilling 94-89 overtime victory against No. 6 West Virginia to win the program’s first Big 12 regular-season championship, the Bears’ first conference title since 1950, in Morgantown, W.Va., Tuesday afternoon.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our players,” Baylor head coach Scott Drew said. “Really persevered down the stretch. Coming off of a 21-day pause is something that there is no past history, recipe for. Couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The stakes couldn’t have been higher for the Bears, but as per usual, the junior guard duo of Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell came up big, scoring 25 and 20 points each, respectively, making clutch buckets on multiple occasions.
“It was a grinder,” Butler said. “We’re still kind of rusty, a little bit. We’re still kind of out of shape, but we fought through it. We knew it was going to be a tough one. We knew West Virginia was going to give us their best shot.”
Since returning from a three-week break due to COVID protocols, Baylor has struggled shooting the ball from the three, shooting a disappointing 27.5% over the last two games. Baylor finally seemed to break out of the shooting slump against West Virginia, making four threes in the opening 10 minutes and shooting 41.9% for the game. The improved shooting helped Baylor jump out to an early 21-9 lead over the Mountaineers, its largest lead of the game.
Butler, who scored only five points in the loss to Kansas, equaled that total in the first five minutes of the game.
A pair of four-minute scoring droughts, one starting at the 12-minute mark and the other starting at the six-minute mark, allowed West Virginia to whittle Baylor’s lead down to only one, coming as close as 32-31 with a minute to go.
West Virginia seemed to have momentum going into the half until Butler hit a clutch buzzer-beating three to put Baylor up 35-31 at the half.
It was a wild back and forth affair in the second half between the first and second place teams in the Big 12. A quick 10-0 West Virginia run was capped by an emphatic dunk by West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. that gave the Mountaineers its biggest lead of the game, 50-43.
The Bears were able to claw their way back into the game thanks to stellar play from Butler, redshirt guard Adam Flagler and Mitchell. However, it was Matthew Mayer time late in the second half, as the sophomore forward hit back-to-back threes to give Baylor its first lead in the second half since the 11-minute mark, 77-76.
The Mountaineers were able to retake the lead 80-79 with 1:05 on the clock after West Virginia’s Derek Culver hit a pair of free throws. Guard Miles McBride hit another free throw to stretch the lead to 81-79 with 13 seconds left, but in typical fashion, Butler hit a clutch layup to tie the game 81-81 and send it to overtime.
The overtime period mirrored the second half as both teams traded buckets back and forth. Butler hit his fifth three with 2:15 left in overtime to give Baylor its first lead in overtime, 86-85.
Butler would foul out only a minute later, but it was the next man up for the Bears, as Mitchell made a clutch layup to give Baylor a 90-89 lead with a minute left to play in the game. Mitchell then proceeded to draw a charge with 27 seconds left and hit two free throws to seal the game and a Big 12 Championship for the Bears.
“Our last title was in 1950, so we’ve had a lot of great players that have helped work towards this,” Drew said on winning the Big 12 title. “Everyone has contributed, from the fans to the staff and players to get to this point.”
Mayer said the adversity the team faced against West Virginia will only help the team down the line, as its remaining games will only be against similarly tough opponents.
“For the rest of the season we’re going to be playing really good teams,” Mayer said. “It’s good to see we have that kind of fight in us. This was an away game with a hyped-up crowd, so we proved a lot to ourselves.”
As Mayer said, the schedule does not let up for the Bears. Baylor will take on streaking No. 17 Oklahoma State at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Ferrell Center. The game will be televised on ESPN2.