By Chris Jackson
In the span of 60 seconds, West Virginia senior guard Daxter Miles Jr. helped keep West Virginia’s Big 12 title hopes alive.
Miles hit three threes in exactly a one minute span to put WVU’s lead up to 40-27 with 16:33 remaining before the No. 3 seeded Mountaineers would eventually earn a 78-65 victory over No. 6 seed Baylor in the Big 12 quarterfinals at the Spring Center in Kansas City.
“A lot of those were deep and late in the shot clock,” said Baylor head coach Scott Drew. “When you get down double digits against West Virginia, it’s hard to come back.”
Baylor would remain within striking distance, though. It would get within 49-40 because of two free throws from senior guard Manu Lecomte.
Yet there was simply no answer for defending Miles. His fourth three of the evening would end any hopes at a comeback, making it 59-42 with 7:28 left in the contest.
Miles finished with 19 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including a 5-of-6 mark beyond the arc, six rebounds and four assists, which followed a treacherous beginning that saw him commit two turnovers in the first six minutes of the game and all four in the first half.
“He’s an unbelievable scorer,” said WVU senior guard Jevon Carter. “When he gets hot, there’s no stopping him.”
His performance helped alleviate shooting woes that plagued WVU in the early parts of the game. WVU started off hitting just four of its first 18 shots, highlighted by a span that saw it miss six in a row and eight of nine to go down 18-10.
WVU went on a 10-0 run after a pass from Miles to redshirt sophomore Logan Routt for a dunk to give the Mountaineers a 25-20 lead.
“Our defense was really good early on,” Drew said. “They were 22 percent, I think 4-for-18, and then all of a sudden our turnovers allowed them to not have to face our defense. When they started scoring, then we had to face the press.”
Behind Miles was the performance from junior forward Esa Ahmad, who scored in double figures for a fifth straight game. He tallied a team-best 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting, adding eight rebounds and three steals.
“It gives us another threat,” said WVU head coach Bob Huggins. “He’s a guy who can score inside and outside. We really needed the rebounding.”
Baylor’s high turnover rate played a big role in the final outcome, too. It committed 12 turnovers in the first half for a second straight time against WVU before finishing with a season-worst 22 in the game.
Those 22 turnovers led to 22 WVU points, helping the Mountaineers claim a substantial 22-8 advantage in points off turnovers.
“It’s a great press, a great team,” Lecomte said. “They turned us over 22 times. The coaches put up a great gameplan, and I thought we made a lot of mistakes, but I’m really proud of my guys. We fought until the end.”
Huggins cited how important winning the offensive rebounding battle was ahead of the game, and that’s exactly what he got from his team. They outrebounded Baylor 37-31 overall and 11-7 on the offense glass after being outrebounded in the two regular season matchups.
“That was a big emphasis this week to make sure that we rebounded the ball,” Huggins said.
WVU returns to action at 8 p.m. CT Friday when it faces No. 2 seed Texas Tech in the Big 12 semifinals. The two split the regular season series, with WVU claiming the last meeting on Feb. 26 in Morgantown.
This will be WVU’s third straight trip to the Big 12 semifinals.