MORGANTOWN (AP) — With a little help, West Virginia has scratched its way into sole possession of first place in the tough Big 12.
How long it lasts is anyone’s guess in a league that has seen its share of upsets and crazy finishes.
“We can’t get too comfortable,” West Virginia forward Devin Williams said. “It feels great. We just have to keep winning out, keep moving forward from here.”
Daxter Miles Jr. scored a season-high 20 points and No. 14 West Virginia beat No. 15 Baylor 80-69 on Saturday night.
The Mountaineers (19-4, 8-2) took over first place by themselves after No. 1 Oklahoma lost at Kansas State 80-69 earlier Saturday. The Sooners fell into a second-place tie with No. 7 Kansas and Texas at 7-3.
“When you have what everybody else wants, you have a whole bunch of people trying to get it,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “I don’t think this group has a lot of fear. Some people go in thinking they can’t win. These guys don’t ever do that.”
Jaysean Paige added 17 points, Williams scored 16 and Nathan Adrian had 11 points and nine rebounds for West Virginia, which finally found a way to beat Baylor (17-6, 6-4) after four straight losses to the Bears going back two years.
King McClure and Ishmail Wainright had 11 points apiece while Taurean Prince and Terry Maston had 10 each for the Bears.
Baylor scored one basket over the first five minutes of the second half and West Virginia extended a nine-point halftime lead to 51-36 on Miles’ 3-pointer.
Williams, Adrian and Esa Ahmad helped neutralize Rico Gathers, the only Big 12 player averaging a double-double in points and rebounds.
Gathers, who averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds in three games against the Mountaineers a year ago, was held to five points on 1-of-9 shooting Saturday.
Ahmad blocked Gathers’ layup attempt, Miles hit a 3-pointer at the other end and Williams followed with a jumper from the top of the key to give West Virginia its largest lead, 62-43, with 9:28 left.
That’s when Baylor coach Scott Drew took Gathers and Prince out of the game.
“I was looking for some offense and defense,” Drew said. “I think our bench really played well and did a great job getting us back in the game.”
Baylor made it interesting down the stretch. McClure’s 3-pointer sandwiched around layups by Al Freeman and Maston pulled Baylor to 68-58 with 3:25 left. Wainright’s 3-pointer made it 74-67 with a minute left, but the Bears got no closer.
The lead changed six times in the opening 10 minutes, and neither team led by more than five points until Miles and Tarik Phillip each hit 3-pointers and Adrian sank two free throws to put West Virginia ahead 38-29 at halftime.
Baylor: The Bears had beaten West Virginia by an average of 11 points in their three previous visits to Morgantown. … Baylor shot just 33 percent (12 of 36) from the floor in the second half and had a three-game road winning streak snapped.
West Virginia: Capped a strong week after beating Iowa State on the road on Tuesday. The Mountaineers improved to 3-2 against ranked opponents this season. … Miles has shot 11 of 17 from the floor in his last two games after going 11 of 39 in six games before that. … West Virginia committed eight turnovers, its lowest in Big 12 play this season.
West Virginia forward Jonathan Holton sat out his third straight game. He was suspended a week ago for an undisclosed violation of team rules and Huggins said after the game he wasn’t sure when Holton would return. Adrian started in his place Saturday.
Baylor: At Kansas State on Wednesday.
West Virginia: At No. 7 Kansas on Tuesday.