No. 5 Baylor MBB breaks losing streak with 77-68 win over West Virginia

Sophomore guard LJ Cryer celebrates with his teammates after breaking a two-game losing streak by beating West Virginia on Jan. 18 in WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, W.Va. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer

Despite missing senior guard James Akinjo and freshman forward Jeremy Sochan, the No. 5 Baylor men’s basketball team broke their two-game losing streak with a 77-68 win over West Virginia University Tuesday night (13-4, 2-3 Big 12). Baylor (16-2, 4-2 Big 12) is now 4-0 on the road this season and has won 13 consecutive road games.

Head coach Scott Drew said the coaching staff couldn’t be more proud of the team getting a good win in a tough road environment.

“Anytime you come to West Virginia, you get the students out there an hour and a half beforehand,” Drew said. “The packed arena, coach [Bob] Huggins, a Hall of Fame coach, you got to earn the win here. And I think, as a staff, we couldn’t be more proud of our team’s effort and, win or lose, I thought we really prepared well, we competed hard and we’re proud of a lot of the things we did today.”

LJ Cryer led all scorers with 25 points, a career high for the sophomore guard. Senior forward Matthew Mayer also posted a career high with 20 points to go along with four steals. Both Cryer and Mayer dialed in five threes each. Junior guard Adam Flagler had a solid performance with 14 points and a team high seven assists. Junior forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua brought the energy with 10 points and seven rebounds.

Mayer said he was able to carry over confidence from his performance in Baylor’s last outing mixed with his love of playing at WVU Coliseum.

“In the second half of Oklahoma State, I hit a couple threes and that kind of got my confidence going, so I kind of just carried that over,” Mayer said. “This is like my favorite place to play. I’ve always had some good games here. My best moment of my career was freshman year when we’re in warmups and they were all cheering for me every time I shot and if I missed they were sad. I love playing here.”

As a team, Baylor shot 44.4% from beyond the arc and 46.7% overall. Their defense forced 12 turnovers, the 26th straight game of forcing 10 or more turnovers.

Baylor found themselves down early as they started the game with multiple turnovers that the Mountaineers were able to capitalize on. However, Tchamwa Tchatchoua’s energetic play helped ignite Baylor on both ends of the court. The Bears exploited West Virginia’s lack of help defense to dominate the paint and go on a 24-5 run and take a 16-point lead at 30-14.

Baylor couldn’t sustain the run as their offense went cold. West Virginia took advantage of a five-minute scoring drought, including five turnovers, to go on a big 14-0 run. Once the lead was cut to two, neither team let up much defensively, going into the half with a four-point contest as Baylor led 37-33.

At the half, Mayer led the Bears with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, 3-of-5 from three. As a team, they shot 50% from the field and assisted on 12 of their 15 made shots. Their defense forced eight turnovers, but turned the ball over nine times themselves.

Cryer fired off in the second half, scoring Baylor’s first seven points out of the intermission. Despite strong defense from the Bears, the Mountaineers made difficult shots and eventually took the lead. After overcoming their deficit, West Virginia suffered a three-minute scoring drought thanks to Baylor’s excruciating defense. The Bears pounced and with Cryer’s fifth three of the game, Baylor was able to snatch the lead. The teams played physical and traded buckets throughout most of the second half. Late in the game, the Bears slowed down the pace and were able to retake a double-digit lead with a minute and a half to go. Baylor held off West Virginia the rest of the way to earn its 16th win of the season.

Drew said it felt good to get a win after back-to-back losses to regain confidence.

“This league is one of those leagues you don’t want to be on a losing streak because nobody feels sorry for you,” Drew said. “No matter what you say, you pick any sport, you lose, you make errors, you lose a little confidence and you want to get back to winning as quick as you can.”

The Bears will look to carry momentum into their showdown with the University of Oklahoma (12-6, 2-4 Big 12) at 2 p.m. on Saturday in the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. Baylor knocked off the Sooners 84-74 in their previous matchup on Jan. 4 at the Ferrell Center.