MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Coach Scott Drew jumped on Mark Vital’s back after Baylor clinched the Big 12 championship, pointed a finger to the sky, then raced off the court ahead of his players to prepare for an even more raucous celebration.
“I was able to beat them into the locker room, get the water ready and get them,” Drew said. “And I got the COLD water ready for them, too.”
Jared Butler scored 25 points before fouling out, Davion Mitchell hit the go-ahead basket in overtime and the third-ranked Bears beat No. 6 West Virginia 94-89 Tuesday for the Bears’ first Big 12 regular-season title.
Baylor (19-1, 11-1 Big 12) bounced back in a big way from its only loss of the season at No. 13 Kansas on Saturday. The Bears struggled in their two previous games coming off a three-week layoff because of COVID-19 issues in the program.
After managing just 58 points against the Jayhawks, Baylor maintained its energy and scoring touch until the very end against the Mountaineers (17-7, 10-5).
“Probably the number one moment ever at Baylor,” said Butler, who had fouled out in overtime only to run back onto the court after it was over to hug every teammate in sight.
Drew, whose 18 seasons at Baylor have been spent watching other teams, mostly Kansas, take home the title, joked that he jumped on fifth-year senior Vital’s back because “Mark’s the only one that’s been at Baylor longer than me.”
Butler finished with 25 points. Mitchell scored four of Baylor’s 13 points in overtime and finished with 20. Matthew Mayer had a season-high 18 points for the Bears.
Taz Sherman came off the bench to score a career-high 26 points for the Mountaineers. Miles McBride added 19 points and Sean McNeil scored 18, including 15 after halftime.
West Virginia managed just one field goal in overtime.
“At the end of the day, they just did more of the little stuff at the end to win the game,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “When you’re playing top teams in the nation, every little thing is going to matter.
“Everybody knew this was going to be a great game.”
Baylor jumped out to a quick double-digit lead and for a time the game was looking like a rout. But the Bears went scoreless for nearly six minutes before halftime, allowing West Virginia to keep it close the rest of the game.
“It was a grinder, I’m not going to lie,” Butler said. “We’re still kind of rusty a little bit. We’re still out of shape a little bit, especially me. 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.”
Butler’s layup with 2.7 seconds left in regulation sent the game into overtime tied at 81. But he fouled out with 1:15 remaining in overtime.
“It was extremely difficult,” Butler said. “I just couldn’t watch the game.”
Sherman hit one of two free throws to put the Mountaineers ahead 89-88 before Mitchell’s layup with 59 seconds left in overtime put Baylor ahead to stay. Mitchell then took a charge against McBride with 27 seconds left, and Mitchell hit two free throws with 18 seconds left for the final margin.
“I think going into overtime we just lost that fire and energy, and we let it slip away,” McNeil said.
FROM LOSS TO TITLE
Going from that loss at Kansas to conference champion in a matter of three days was an instant fix for Baylor’s outlook.
“When you lose, it’s just like a stormy cloud over your head,” Butler said. “Everywhere you go, everything is not the same.
“This win and what we accomplished at Baylor is going to change the whole mood of the program. It gives us our confidence back.”
Baylor: It’s the first conference title for the Bears since they won the 1950 Southwest Conference championship. The Bears improved to 4-0 against top 10 teams this season. They shot 51% (36 of 70) from the floor against West Virginia. The conference’s top 3-point shooting team made 13 of them.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers saw a three-game winning streak snapped but are still looking at a solid NCAA Tournament seeding. West Virginia is 9-5 since big man Oscar Tshiebwe left the team. But the Mountaineers’ offense has steadily improved because his exit enabled other capable playmakers to getting extra court time while the defense hasn’t suffered much. The five losses have been by a combined 17 points.
Baylor goes for a regular-season sweep of No. 17 Oklahoma State at home on Thursday.
West Virginia hosts TCU on Thursday. The Mountaineers beat the Horned Frogs last week in Fort Worth, Texas.
“Whether you win or lose, you can’t dwell on it too long,” Huggins said. “And tomorrow we start getting ready for TCU.”
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