By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Juwan Staten shook off a dreadful night of free throw shooting to save the day with a spectacular left-handed reverse layup with just 3.1 seconds to play and West Virginia played just enough defense to force a last-second, desperation shot to come just after the final buzzer as the Mountaineers beat the Baylor Bears, 66-64, before 5,529 fans in Waco, Texas, Tuesday night.
WVU ran its record to 12-9, 4-4 in Big 12 play as it bounced back from a hard-fought 81-75 loss at No. 11 Oklahoma State, while the Bears dropped their fifth game in their last sixth after having been ranked as high as No. 7 this year and fell to 13-7 1-6.
WVU led for nearly all the game but never could pull away.
“That was the most upset I’ve been all year at halftime,” Coach Bob Huggins admitted. “We just couldn’t grind for a long enough time. We get ahead and we can’t grind. We gave those points off the free throws. We had opportunities and we just wouldn’t grind.”
But when they needed it most, Staten was there to deliver with a truly spectacular play.
“Juwan makes a heckuva play after going 1 for 6 from the foul line,” Huggins said. “He’s really the guy you want there. I know it would have crushed him if we hadn’t won.”
Baylor Coach Scott Drew called time out after the basket, set up a play, only to have Huggins call time out.
When play resumed, Drew set up a play for Kenny Chery, who took a couple of dribbles and launched an off-balance, three-point shot that banked in and would have won the game but came just a millisecond after the final buzzer went off.
Staten finished with 15 points and a season-high 9 assists, while Remi Dibo scored 13; Eron Harris, 12; and Terry Henderson, 11. WVU won the game by scoring 18 points off of turnovers while giving up none.
The game is hard enough to play when you are playing the players you want out there, but for the second game in a row, foul trouble put handcuffs on the Mountaineers as both Devin Williams and Eron Harris picked up a pair of early fouls and found themselves on the bench for most of the half.
Fortunately, Remi Dibo this time had his six-guns loaded.
Dibo came off the bench and hit two of three 3s in the first half and finished with eight points, joining both Terry Henderson and Juwan Staten with eight at the half.
Staten had a huge half as he accounted for 20 points, eight that he scored and then 12 that came on six assists.
West Virginia finished the half shooting 46.4 percent, which you have to do on the road, especially when Baylor’s Rico Gathers is completely dominating the boards, pulling down eight first-half rebounds.
That was just one fewer rebound than WVU pulled down as a team in the first half as Baylor led 20-9 in rebounding.
The Mountaineers were able to hang on to a 36-33 halftime lead because they valued the basketball while Baylor played giveaway, turning it over 11 times to just four for WVU.
The result was that WVU outscored Baylor, 15-0, off of turnovers during the first half.
WVU’s rebounding situation didn’t get helped any early in the second half when within the first two minutes of play Kevin Noreen picked up two fouls, giving him four and forcing him to the bench. Less than two minutes later, Brandon Watkins was hit with a foul, which sent another rebounder to the bench as Nathan Adrian came in.
Undaunted, WVU kept the pressure on with Harris hitting a pair of baskets off nifty fast break feeds from Staten as they kept the advantage at 7 points, but more foul trouble was about to occur.
Devin Williams was stuck with his third foul with 14:57 left, forcing him to the bench as Watkins returned with 3 fouls.
It took less than a minute and Watkins had his fourth foul although Huggins made his mind up to play through it as Baylor cut it to 47-45.
The Mountaineers had a chance to take control of the game again when an intentional foul was called sending Staten to the free throw line for a pair, but he missed both and on the ensuing possession Baylor turned up the defensive heat and the Mountaineers couldn’t get a shot off.
Corey Jefferson tied the game at 47 with a drive, but WVU came back down the court and got a 3 from Henderson, his third of the game, to make it 50-47 for a momentary lead that would be erased by a 3-point shot from Chery.
Watkins made his presence felt with a basket for a 52-50 lead, but moments later he fouled out with 9:18 left in the game, Noreen coming in as Baylor hit one free throw to narrow it to 52-51.
WVU kept pushing the pressure, Dibo hitting a 3 and a 2 to reach 13 points and stretch the advantage to a game-high 8 points, 64-56.
But down the stretch things came apart for WVU, going without a field goal for nearly five minutes as Baylor battled back to tie the game at 64-64 with 36.5 seconds left on one of two free throws by Rico Gathers, setting the stage for Staten’s heroics.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter at @bhertzel.