MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia's games are beginning to take the form of the season. The Mountaineers are coming up short and fading down the stretch.
WVU was outmanned again in the paint and outscored by 19 points in the second half to lose a second straight game in the midst of a postseason push. Baylor had five players score in double figures, outscored the Mountaineers by 26 points in the paint and committed only four turnovers in an 88-75 victory before 11,843 inside the Coliseum.
The Bears shot 54.2 percent from the floor, which is somehow just the fourth-highest percentage the Mountaineers have allowed this season, but the seventh time a team has made at least half its shots. WVU, which allowed Texas to shoot a season-high 57.2 percent last game, is 1-6 in those games.
"The frustrating part isn't that we missed shots," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "The frustrating part is they scored every time down the floor. And it's been a steady diet of that."
The Bears trailed by six points at halftime, but won the second half 52-33. They outscored WVU 38-12 in the paint. In the past two games, Texas, which outscored WVU 46-14 in the paint, and Baylor have combined for 42 baskets in the paint. WVU, which made 22 of 55 shots (40 percent) against Baylor, has made 45 total shots the past two games.
"You can't win if you give up that many points in the paint or that high of a shooting percentage," WVU guard Eron Harris said. "If we can't get better at that, we're not going to win too many more games. That's the end of the story right there."
That may well be true for WVU's chances as an at-large participant for the NCAA Tournament, too. The Mountaineers (15-12, 7-7 Big 12) have now lost three of the past four games and by 14, 17 and 13 points. They play Wednesday at No. 17 Iowa State, play host to TCU next Saturday, play at Oklahoma on March 5 and then play host to No. 8 Kansas on March 8.
And if a NCAA Tournament bid is out of reach without a dramatic turn of events, the NIT isn't guaranteed either. Of the past 256 NIT teams, 253 have been at least two games above .500.
"We felt like two of the easier games we had left were at home and we were really counting on winning these home games," WVU guard Juwan Staten said. "We're not out of it. I feel like we can go on the road and win. We've proved we can win on the road. We've proven we can play with any team in the conference. We've got four games to get it right."
Baylor's Royce O'Neale scored 22 points and was 4-for-4 from 2-point range, 4-for-4 from 3-point range and 2-for-2 from the foul line. He added six rebounds and six assists. O'Neale, a transfer in his first season at Baylor, hadn't scored more than 10 points in a Big 12 game and hadn't scored more than 13 with the Bears. In the loss to WVU last month, O'Neale played a season-low seven minutes, was 1-for-1 from 2-point range, 0-for-1 from 3-point range and had one rebound and three turnovers
"He wasn't really scouted as a shooter," Harris said. "We wanted to see if he was going to make a couple, or make one at least. He ended up making more than that."
Isaiah Austin added 19 points on 8-for-14 shooting, and the 7-footer blocked seven shots. Cory Jefferson had 15 points and 12 rebounds, Kenny Chery had 13 points, six rebounds and seven assists and Brady Heslip made four 3s for 12 points.
The combined effort was enough to beat a WVU team that had a 30-point scorer and committed only four turnovers while making more than half its 3-point shots (11-for-21) and 80-percent of its free throw attempts (20-for-25).
Harris made his first six 3-point attempts and had 32 points, but missed his final three 3-point attempts and scored only two points in the final 7:09. Staten added 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists. The Mountaineers played without third-leading scorer Terry Henderson (illness) and had only 27 points from the remaining six players.
In the second half, Harris and Staten combined for 25 points. The rest of the team combined for eight points and 2-for-10 shooting. The two baskets – 3s from Remi Dibo and Gary Browne – came after Baylor had pulled away. The Bears had five players with at least two baskets and six points after halftime.
WVU also got one minute – actually, 40 seconds – from Brandon Watkins in the first half. Watkins was on the floor when Baylor scored on an offensive rebound and then scored when 6-foot-7, 270-pound Rico Gathers outran the Mountaineers and dunked in transition. Watkins didn't play at all after Huggins called a timeout after the dunk.
"I'm not going to continually tell guys for four days of practice what a guy is going to do and then have them trot their happy you-know-what out there and then let them do it," Huggins said.
The Mountaineers only trailed for 19 seconds in the first half and led by as many as eight points.They shot 2-for-10 to start the second half and Baylor took a 50-49 lead that lasted seven seconds and a 52-51 lead that lasted 18 seconds.
Harris answered that one with a 3 with 12:51 to go, but Austin made two free throws and Staten turned the ball over trying to feed Kevin Noreen on a pick-and-roll. Chery ran ahead for a layup and for the lead for good with 11:55 remaining and O'Neal followed with a 3 for a 59-54 lead.
He followed with a 3 for a 62-58 lead before Heslip's 3 put Baylor ahead 67-59 with 7:59 to go – and the Mountaineers hadn't made up more than a seven-point deficit in a win this season.
Harris made 3s on back-to-back possessions, but Austin blocked Harris' third shot and Cherry found O'Neale in transition for a 3 and a 70-65 lead. Back-to-back layups by O'Neal and Austin made it 74-65 before Dibo's only 3 of the game, but Austin posted up Dibo and scored and O'Neale followed with two free throws to go ahead by double digits for the first time
WVU is now 0-8 when it trails by 10 or more points in a game.
The Mountaineers, who outscored Baylor 16-0 on points off turnovers in the first game and 8-0 in Saturday's first half, were outscored 6-0 off turnovers in the second half. Baylor also had a 6-1 edge on second-chance points after halftime.
"You wonder what went wrong, but I know," Harris said "We didn't get a stop when we needed, which is basically the story every time we lose. We didn't get the stop we needed or the rebound we needed. We'll continue to try to work on it and try to improve."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mi...@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu.