Fouling out with 1:15 left, Baylor’s junior guard Jared Butler, wasn’t even on the bench for the end of the game against No. 6 West Virginia. He could be seen in the tunnel at WVU Coliseum praying with strength coach Charlie Melton.
“Thank God, those prayers were answered,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose third-ranked Bears pulled out a gut-check 94-89 overtime win over the Mountaineers to secure the program’s first Big 12 title in the 25-year history of the league and the first conference championship since winning the old Southwest Conference in 1950.
“If you don’t have the heart of a champion, especially when you’re as fatigued as we were, you don’t get a road win like this,” Drew said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”
Butler, who drained five 3-pointers, scored 25 points and hit the game-tying layup with 2.7 seconds left in regulation, called Tuesday’s win and the conference championship “probably the top No. 1 moment at Baylor.”
“It means a lot, especially for Coach Drew and Coach (Jerome) Tang and all the guys who passed through Baylor – Tweety Carter, Rico Gathers, guys like that,” said Butler, who was 10-of-21 overall and 5-of-11 from outside the arc after scoring just five points in Saturday’s 71-58 loss at No. 17 Kansas, ending the best start in program history. It just means a lot to me to do it with these guys, such great guys.”
And when Butler fouled out, it was those “great guys” that carried Baylor to one of the biggest wins in school history.
After Taz Sherman hit one of two free throws to give the Mountaineers an 89-88 lead, Davion Mitchell put Baylor back on top with a driving layup. The Bears then forced two-straight turnovers, with Mark Vital getting a steal and Mitchell taking a charge from Miles McBride with 27.3 seconds left.
Free throws by Mitchell and Adam Flagler put the game away, setting off a celebration that had an eyes-wide-open Butler sprinting back on the floor and hugging every teammate he could find and Drew jumping on Vital’s back.
“Well, Mark’s the only one that’s been at Baylor longer than me,” Drew said jokingly of the fifth-year senior forward. “I know he was overcome with emotion and he’s really excited. Just the heart and toughness that he plays with and competes with, especially since coming back from our (COVID) pause.”
A three-time Big 12 runner-up., including a COVID-shortened 2019-20 season, Baylor won its first regular-season title in the 25-year history of the league. The loss eliminated West Virginia, which has only two games remaining and can finish no better than 12-5.
Drew said the Big 12 championship is for all his former players over the last 18 years – “Without them, we wouldn’t be here.” – and “for all the fans who came to games when we were 35- to 40-point underdogs and had walk-ons starting. So now, everyone can celebrate and enjoy it.”
After struggling to knock down shots in the previous two games following a three-week COVID pause, Baylor came out on fire, hitting four of its first six 3-point attempts and going up 21-9 on a Mitchell trey.
The Bears watched a double-digit lead all but disappear in the last six minutes of the half, missing 11-straight shots and turning it over four times. But, Butler hit a buzzer-beater catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the corner to give Baylor a 35-31 halftime lead.
Sean McNeil hit two 3-pointers and a baseline jumper in a 10-0 run that pushed West Virginia out on top, 50-43.
In a one-on-one shootout with McNeil, Matthew Mayer hit back-to-back 3-pointers and scored 15 of his season-high 18 points in the second half, giving the Bears a short-lived 1:41 left in regulation.
“It’s stressful, but this is the kind of stuff we love,” Mayer said. “You don’t get to that level without loving that kind of competition. It’s a lot of fun and makes the win that much more special.”
The lead changed hands in the second half before Butler drove inside and made bucket over 6-10 junior forward Derek Culver, who finished with nine points and nine boards and hit 9-of-10 from the line.
Baylor had one more chance when West Virginia turned it over with 1.8 seconds left on the clock, but Butler’s long inbounds pass sailed over Mayer and gave the Mountaineers one last chance.
McBride put up an off-balanced 3-pointer that never had a chance. “Credit our guys right away in stopping them and taking it to overtime,” Drew said. “I think one of the most important things when you get to overtime is make sure you’re positive and upbeat. I didn’t even have to do anything. It’s a player-led team. Those guys were ready to go and they were excited for an OT.”
In the overtime period, West Virginia turned it over three times and was just 1-of-5 from the floor, scoring just eight points.
Baylor finished with a 13-10 edge in second-chance points despite getting outrebounded, 36-31. Mitchell and Mayer scored 20 and 18 points, respectively, while MaCio Teague chipped in with 11. Sherman scored a career-high 26 points for the Mountaineers, with McBride (19), McNeil (18) and Jalen Bridges (11)