MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Emmitt Matthews ended a long slump to give West Virginia a much-needed boost heading into the postseason.
For No. 4 Baylor, Matthews’ re-emergence came at the worst possible time.
Matthews scored a season-high 18 points, freshman Oscar Tshiebwe had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and West Virginia used a big second-half run to beat Baylor 76-64 on Saturday.
Baylor (26-4, 15-3 Big 12) went more than eight minutes without a field goal midway through the second half to take itself out of contention for the league championship. The title went to top-ranked Kansas, which beat Texas Tech 66-62 later Saturday.
“This really hurts,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “I don’t think another team in the Big 12 has lost a conference championship with 15 wins. We did what you normally would do when you win a conference championship and we don’t have anything to show for it. It sucks.”
Instead, it was West Virginia (21-10, 9-9) celebrating. The sellout crowd stormed the court after the Mountaineers’ second consecutive win and just the third in nine games.
Matthews had scored in double figures just once in his previous 20 games. A season-long starter, the 6-foot-7 sophomore entered Saturday’s play averaging 5.9 points per game and with twice as many turnovers as assists.
“This is really the work, putting in all of the time that I’ve put in,” Matthews said. “My slump was a little longer, it was a prolonged slump, something I had never seen before for myself. Things are clicking at the right time.”
West Virginia looked as if it were headed for more disappointment against a ranked team when Matthews’ dunk attempt was blocked and Baylor’s Devonte Bandoo made a basket at the other end to put the Bears ahead 37-30 with 13:40 remaining. But Matthews kept going to the rim, dunking twice to ignite the crowd and his teammates.
“I just wanted to make the right plays. That’s all it was,” Matthews said. “I haven’t been dunking the ball lately, and I miss dunking on people. I want to get back to that, from here on to the national championship.”
Tshiebwe and Jermaine Haley scored six points apiece during the decisive 21-5 burst that put West Virginia ahead 57-46 with 3:02 remaining.
Baylor got 3-pointers from Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell to give the Bears some hope. But West Virginia, the league’s worst free-throw shooting team, made 16 of 19 from the line over the final two minutes to seal it.
Miles McBride added 12 points for West Virginia and Sean McNeal scored 11. Butler led Baylor with 21 points and Mitchell added 15.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said he hadn’t been as tough on his players this season as he normally would be because he likes this group so much. That changed in practice on Thursday and Huggins saw positive results from the Big 12’s youngest team.
“We had two of the best practices we’ve had in a very, very long time,” Huggins said. “They were enthusiastic. They had bounce in their step.”
That energy transferred to Saturday’s game. Just not right away.
West Virginia missed its first eight shots, and Huggins ripped into his players during an early timeout. The Mountaineers responded with a 19-2 run, with Matthews scoring eight. to put West Virginia ahead 19-11.
The momentum quickly changed after a Baylor player stepped on the end line retrieving an errant pass at the opposite end of the court outside of the referees’ view. With the sellout crowd screaming in protest, MaCio Teague then made a three-point play and another basket 40 seconds later to pull the Bears to within 24-22 at halftime.
Baylor: Despite losing three of their last five games, the Bears finished with their best regular-season record in school history. Against the Mountaineers, Baylor was outrebounded 42-28, got into foul trouble and was outscored 24-10 at the line.
“From this game, we’ve seen some weaknesses that we have,” said Baylor’s Mark Vital. “They exposed them, Coach Drew will fix them for us. We’ll get back on the run.”
West Virginia: The Mountaineers will take some momentum into the league tournament after going 3-6 in February.
Baylor could fall out of the top five in the AP Top 25 poll for the first time in 10 weeks. West Virginia could re-enter the rankings after dropping out this past week.
A pregame ceremony marked the final home game for West Virginia seniors Haley, Chase Harler and Logan Routt. Harler then got down on his knee on the court and asked his girlfriend, Lindsey Baker, to marry him. She said yes.
The league tournament starts Wednesday in Kansas City.