The Mountaineers had numerous chances to win, both in regulation and overtime. But each time a mistake – either by a freshman or of the frosh variety – derailed the effort and, eventually, cost WVU a marquee victory.
There was Jabarie Hinds, freshman, missing free throws with West Virginia ahead 76-73 with 33 seconds left in the second half. There was Dominique Rutledge, major college newcomer, hitting a putback off the miss only to be whistled for what appeared to be a phantom foul. There was Truck Bryant’s frosh-like off-balance leaner late that nearly missed everything. And that came after West Virginia’s defense inexplicably gave sharpshooter Pierre Jackson an open three to force extra time.
Add in Gary Browne, freshman, throwing the ball directly to Baylor in overtime. And then, at the end, Hinds again, racing upcourt as time ticked down only to float an airball at the buzzer. It amounted to decent idea, bad execution – the nutshell of the night for West Virginia.
“I keep telling them, ‘You gotta grow up,’” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said on MSN's postgame radio. “We have so many guys that take plays off. And we don’t react. It’s a lot to ask of that many freshmen. It’s hard to understand what goes through their minds sometimes.”
There were positives aplenty, though. This team – Huggins has called it the youngest in his 30-year career – battled among the better rebounding teams in the nation. They made three-pointers, at times took excellent shots and displayed a much better effort than in the third round win. But the freshman gene continually showcased itself, and the veteran Bears simply made more plays.
“The battle,” Huggins said, “is to keep them doing things they can do.”
Which up until overtime was getting the ball to playmaker Kevin Jones. The senior sliced up Baylor for 28 points and 17 rebounds and kept West Virginia in the game when it threatened to wilt. But Jones disappeared in overtime as Baylor clamped down defensively. That forced West Virginia’s freshmen point guards to try and win the game themselves, a tall task versus the No. 6 team in the nation.
“This would have been a great win for a bunch of young guys,” Huggins said. “We do compete.”
Right from the opening tip. Jones scored 10 of WVU’s first 22 points as the Mountaineers (9-3) used a 10-0 run to surge to a 24-13 lead with 11 minutes played. That proved the biggest margin of the game for either team. Baylor almost equaled it with a 54-45 edge with 15 minutes left before West Virginia rallied to tie at 69-69 with four minutes remaining. The teams would tie again at 71 and remain that way inside three minutes before Bryant made a trio of free throws when fouled in the act of shooting a three to give WVU its first lead of the game, 74-71, since the 3:51 mark of the opening period.
The two teams scored twice more for a 76-73 differential with 33 seconds. That’s when Hinds missed the front end of a one-and-one attempt before Rutledge, with what appeared to be perhaps the game sealer, rebounded the miss and scored for a 78-73 advantage at the 33-second mark. But a foul waived off the bucket and Jackson then canned his three-pointer to force overtime.
“We had talked about switching everything and not giving a three and a two doesn’t beat us,” Huggins said. “Then we give Jackson a three.”
The Bears (12-0), which had another regulation chance to win on a baseball pass catch-and-shoot attempt, largely had control from there, taking an initial 83-78 edge in overtime that held, the final Mountaineer points coming from Hinds’ fourth and final three with 93 seconds left.
Hinds finished with a career-high 18 points on seven of 11 shooting, including 4 of 5 from three-point range. Bryant had 16 points, but missed nine of 15 shots. Brady Heslip led Baylor with 19 points, including five three-pointers in seven shots. Quincy Acy, who missed the turnaround chance at the regulation buzzer, added 15. The Bears, off to the best start in school history, led the nation in blocks per game entering with eight, but recorded none versus WVU. The Mountaineers lost for the first time in three overtime games this season.