KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Baylor thought it had stolen some much-needed momentum entering halftime against West Virginia when Tristan Clark threw down a dunk with a couple of seconds left on the clock.
Jevon Carter stole it all right back.
The senior guard chucked in a halfcourt buzzer-beater to give the No. 18 Mountaineers a comfy cushion, and the Big 12 Tournament’s third-seeded team kept pulling away after the break. Carter wound up with 18 points and 11 assists, Esa Ahmad poured in 21 points and West Virginia rolled to a 78-65 victory and a spot in the semifinal round Thursday night.
“They had that put-back dunk that changed the game,” Carter said, “but I guess that 3-pointer just killed them right there. That’s a big momentum-changer, and it was big for us going into halftime.
“We came out and played with the same energy as the first half.”
Daxter Miles Jr. also had 19 points for the Mountaineers (23-9), who swept the Bears (18-14) during the regular season and have won six of the last seven in the series overall.
“When you get down double digits against West Virginia it’s hard to come back,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “There’s certain teams we match up better with and West Virginia isn’t one of them, we are glad if we never have to play them again this year.”
The Mountaineers will play No. 14 Texas Tech, the tournament’s second seed, on Friday night for a spot in the championship game. They’ve been to the last two Big 12 finals, but still have not won a conference tournament since capturing the Big East crown in 2010.
Manu Lecomte led the No. 6 seed Bears with 27 points, but he didn’t get much help from a lineup that had a miserable night dealing with West Virginia’s stingy defense. Baylor shot 42 percent from the field but just 6 of 20 from beyond the arc, and committed a ghastly 22 turnovers.
Nuni Omot and King McClure combined for 12 of them.
“We just tried to keep going and stay positive,” said the Bears’ Terry Maston. “They got some great momentum and fast-break dunks. They just played great overall.”
The Bears actually controlled the tempo much of the first half, relying on their zone defense to keep West Virginia from running. They led 18-9 with 8 1/2 minutes left, and still led when Jake Lindsey made a pair of free throws as the 5-minute mark slipped by.
Press Virginia was starting to get cranked up, though.
The Mountaineers began forcing turnovers with their frenetic full-court press, and that keyed a 16-2 run that gave them the lead. And when Clark scored just before the break for Baylor, Carter answered with his half-court heave that hit nothing but net for a 29-23 advantage.
Baylor scored the first couple baskets of the second half, but Ahmad scored inside and Miles hit three 3-pointers in the span of a minute, as the Mountaineers carried their momentum toward the finish.
“It’s a cumulative effect,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said of his press, “and we had one stretch where I think we got the ball three times in a row, and that’s where we were able to open the game up a little bit, and that’s what we hope it does for us.”
The rest of the game amounted to a sloppy foul-fest, neither team ever able to get into much of a rhythm. As usual, that played to the advantage of the poised and veteran Mountaineers, who have earned a reputation for an uncanny ability to make the ugliest of games turn out the sweetest of ways.
“Our turnovers allowed them to not face our defense,” Drew said. “When they scored, they set up and that wasn’t good for us.”
Baylor was trying to reach 19 wins for the sixth straight season. Instead, a lopsided loss means the Bears’ chances of making a fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance appear in jeopardy.
West Virginia and Texas Tech tied for second place in the league race, and the teams split in the regular season. But the Mountaineers should feel confident after getting the better of the Red Raiders the last time they played, an 84-74 victory in Morgantown late last month.
Baylor sweats until Selection Sunday.
West Virginia gets ready for the Red Raiders.
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