Baylor appears to be back.
Following their long shutdown due to COVID-19, the Bears had won ugly against lowly Iowa State on Feb. 23 and suffered their first loss of the season on Saturday against Kansas.
But on Tuesday night, No. 3 Baylor (19-1, 11-1 Big 12) looked like a national title contender again during a gritty 94-89 overtime win at No. 6 West Virginia to secure the school’s first Big 12 men’s basketball title.
On Thursday night, Baylor returns home to try to complete a regular season sweep of No. 17 Oklahoma State.
The Bears, who couldn’t play for three weeks during the month of February and had six games cancelled or postponed, won their first conference title since winning the Southwest Conference in 1950.
“Probably the number one moment ever at Baylor,” said Jared Butler, who finished with 25 points on 10-of-21 shooting and had six assists before fouling out in overtime.
The Cowboys (17-6, 10-6) have won five in a row, including two in overtime, with their past three coming against ranked opponents.
Oklahoma State is coming off back-to-back wins over rival No. 16 Oklahoma, including a 94-90 overtime win in Norman, Okla., on Saturday when Cade Cunningham scored 40 points.
The Cowboys followed that up by sweeping the Sooners at home in Stillwater on Monday night, 79-75.
“We literally just played this game,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton said. “We played 45 minutes’ worth of it 56 hours ago. Both teams are good. Both teams made adjustments from Saturday to today.”
Oklahoma State closes the regular season with two top-10 opponents starting with Baylor. The Cowboys were originally scheduled to travel to Baylor on Feb. 20, but that was one of six recent games for the Bears postponed due to COVID-19 issues.
Cunningham (19.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game) only scored 15 points in Monday’s win and most of that came from the free-throw line where he went 9-for-10, including two that sealed the outcome with 6.3 seconds left. But Cunningham commanded a lot of the Sooners’ defensive attention and finished with seven rebounds and four assists.
“Cade just takes the pressure off the rest of us,” said Cowboys guard Bryce Williams, who scored 14 points. “He’s got so much pressure on him, but it’s not really pressure to him. He can handle the situation. But he’s got a team behind him that can back him up every day.”
Kalib Boone added 17 points and nine rebounds and shot 8-for-9 from the field.
Baylor coach Scott Drew, who has coached the Bears for the past 18 years, couldn’t wait to celebrate after the victory and jumped on 6-5 senior guard Mark Vital’s back before heading to the locker room.
The party began after the Bears outscored West Virginia 13-8 in overtime while holding the Mountaineers to one made field goal. Davion Mitchell (13.8 points, 5.6 assists) finished with 20 points and Matthew Mayer had 18 points.
“It was a grinder, I’m not going to lie,” said Butler, who leads Baylor in scoring with 16.9 points per game. “We’re still kind of rusty a little bit. We’re still out of shape a little bit, especially me. But we fought through it.”