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No. 5 Baylor pulls away from WVU

MORGANTOWN — With eight-and-a-half minutes to go, West Virginia University’s men’s basketball team was in the driver’s seat.

A Sean McNeil layup was the team’s third straight unanswered basket in pursuit of an upset win over the No. 5 Baylor Bears. In the midst of a 6-0 run, West Virginia wrestled the lead back, allowing the Mountaineers to see victory in the near future.

It was the last time West Virginia would sit up front.

A late run allowed the Bears to run ahead, with the team ultimately fending off the Mountaineers over the game’s final minutes by a 77-68 final score.

“The last couple games, we’ve kind of realized that […] basketball’s a game of runs,” McNeil said. “It’s what it is. We’ve been doing better at realizing that, knowing that other teams are going to make a run, and it’s always about how we respond. Unfortunately, they just made a run that we couldn’t overcome.”

From the game’s early minutes, it didn’t appear as if West Virginia (13-4, 2-3 Big 12) would be able to hang with the defending national champions, despite the Bears (16-2, 4-2 Big 12) playing without leading-scorer James Akinjo. Quickly, the Mountaineers found themselves not only struggling to get shots to fall, but also in forcing any kind of Baylor stop.

Baylor’s offense, led by forward Matthew Mayer, exploded for a 24-5 scoring run in the first half, pushing the Bears ahead by double digits and spelling imminent danger for West Virginia. Propelled by McNeil, Taz Sherman and Malik Curry, the Mountaineers responded moments later with a 14-0 run of their own, giving them the needed scoring to stay alive.

“We just started playing as a team,” Curry said. “We can’t allow that to happen, we can’t allow the lead to get that much. We just can’t let that happen, especially not at home. We had to respond in a good way or the game would’ve gotten out of hand. We just played team basketball.”

The two teams stayed neck-and-neck from that point on, with West Virginia seeming to counter each Baylor triumph, and vice versa.

Curry, three days removed from a 23-point performance against Kansas, was the go-to option for the Mountaineers down the stretch, finishing with a team-high 19 points. Sherman and McNeil each finished in double digits scoring-wise.

But guard LJ Cryer finished with 25 points, allowing the Bears to snap their two-game losing streak.

“I’ve been playing well but, as a team, we lost two games so I’m not doing enough in my mind,” Curry said. “We’re not winning. If I play good, I play good but, at the end of the day, I just want to win. […] Individual stats, that’s cool and all, but if we’re not winning it really doesn’t matter.”

The Mountaineers return to the court on Saturday, looking to snap their current two-game skid. They’ll head to Lubbock for a bout with the No. 18 Texas Tech Red Raiders. Opening tipoff is scheduled for noon, with the game set to be televised on ESPN2.

“We don’t feel like our back’s against the wall,” McNeil said, “but it’s super frustrating […] Back against the wall, I don’t think so, but we’ll figure it out. We’ll prepare for Texas Tech, who’s another good team. There’s no time to sulk about this one, we’ve got to figure out how to win in Lubbock.”

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