Baylor tops WVU in battle of NCAA bubble hopefuls
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The last time Baylor and West Virginia met, Baylor's Royce O'Neale played a season-low seven minutes. Saturday, he figured prominently in the rematch.
O'Neale scored 22 points, and Baylor topped West Virginia, 88-75, Saturday in a battle of Big 12 teams striving to make noise in front of the NCAA Tournament.
O'Neale enjoyed a career day, connecting on 8 of 8 field goal attempts, including 4 of 4 from long range. He entered the game at six points per game, and had two points in the last meeting between the teams.
“I thought Royce O'Neale played his best game,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “He didn't miss a shot or a free throw. He also played very good defense. I think you always see the best in your players, but you know they're not normally going to go 8 for 8.”
Isaiah Austin had 19, Cory Jefferson 15, Kenny Chery 13 and Brady Heslip added 12 for Baylor (18-9, 6-8). It was Baylor's fourth consecutive league victory.
“I have to congratulate my teammates for finding me when I was open,” O'Neale said.
Leading 67-65, O'Neale knocked down a triple with 6:16 left to spur a 12-3 run as Baylor opened a 79-68 lead. The Bears made 7 of 8 free throws over the final 2:32 to preserve the win.
“We're pretty much taking it one game at a time. We can't look that far ahead (to the postseason). We just have to look forward to the next game,” O'Neale said.
Baylor took its first lead since being ahead early when Gary Franklin made 1 of 2 free throws to make it 50-49 with 13:41 left. The lead switched back and forth until Austin tied it up with free throws at 12:31 to make it 54-all.
But Chery, who grabbed six rebounds and handed out seven assists, made a bucket and O'Neale's make at 11:02 gave the Bears their biggest lead to that point at 58-54.
Once again WVU tied it at 58 with 4:59 to go, but a Baylor 9-1 run had the Bears ahead 67-59 with 7:59 to go.
Eron Harris drilled back-to-back 3s to pull the Mountaineers within 67-65, with 7:13 left.
West Virginia (15-12, 7-7), lost for the third time in the last four games.
“The frustrating thing is not that we didn't make shots. The frustrating thing is that they scored every time down the floor,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “It's been a steady diet of that.”
The Mountaineers were without third-leading scorer Terry Henderson (13.1 points per game) who was out with an illness, according to Huggins.
In his stead came Harris, the league's third leading scorer (17.6). Harris connected on 9 of 17 shots, including 6 of 9 from distance, to finish with 32 points.
Harris' career scoring high is 33 points, set on numerous occasions. Juwan Staten added 16 for WVU.
Baylor out-rebounded WVU 34-31 and owned a 38-12 differential in points in the paint.
The game was close because of the Mountaineers' effort at the free-throw line and from beyond the arc.
WVU knocked down 11 of 21 3-point attempts (52.4 percent) and 20 of 25 (80 percent) foul shots. In total, the Mountaineers knocked down 22 field goals.
Baylor, meanwhile, bucketed 32 of 59 field goal attempts, 9 of 20 from long range and was 15 of 21 from the line.
West Virginia held a 42-36 lead at the half.