MORGANTOWN -- West Virginia still hasn't beaten a team ranked above it in the Big 12 standings. And after losing a golden opportunity to do so Wednesday night, they might not.
The Mountaineers lost a lead to Baylor in the final 10 minutes, fought back to within a point and then had several chances to go ahead late, but couldn't do so. The end result was a 65-62 loss to the Bears in front of a small crowd of just 6,588 at the Coliseum.
Freshman Eron Harris had a magnificent game, scoring 25 points, but he couldn't make two attempts at a go-ahead basket with his team down by one in the final minute. WVU had a third try at a tying basket in the final 17 seconds, but didn't even get off a real shot.
"We had all kinds of chances,'' coach Bob Huggins said. "We didn't get any stops when we needed to get stops and we didn't make any shots when we had to make shots.''
And because of that, it might mean the end of a nine-year string of winning seasons and postseason invitations for West Virginia.
That's because the loss was the third in a row and the fourth in the last five games for the Mountaineers, who now appear all but certain to finish with their first losing record in a decade. West Virginia (13-15, 6-9 Big 12) has just three games remaining and then the Big 12 tournament, but the next two are on the road at Kansas on Saturday and then Oklahoma next Wednesday.
Baylor (17-11, 8-7), meanwhile, kept its dimming NCAA tournament hopes alive with the win, only its third in the last nine games. Two of those wins were against the Mountaineers, the other an 80-60 victory two weeks ago in Waco, Texas.
It wasn't as if the Mountaineers didn't have their chances. They did. But an inability to convert opportunities, especially late ones, was critical. Shooting was once again an issue, as well, with WVU making just 27.6 percent of its shots in the second half and missing 14 of its 17 3-point attempts for the game.
There was, however, at least a tiny bright side. For one of the few times this season, Huggins walked away from the game feeling like his team at least had left its best on the floor.
"We played hard. If there's such a thing as feeling better, I feel better because we did play hard,'' Huggins said. "I got all the pouters out of there and let them sit on the bench and pout.''
Kevin Noreen's clutch 3-pointer with 97 seconds to play ignited the Mountaineers at the end and almost got them the win. They trailed 63-59 at the time and had wasted several opportunities to close the gap, but that pulled them to within 63-62.
Immediately after that 3, the Mountaineers stopped three inside shot attempts by Baylor before Deniz Kilicli got the rebound with just over a minute to play.
Harris missed a shot from the corner with about 45 seconds to play, but Noreen got the rebound and West Virginia had another chance. Harris then missed a 3-pointer with about 20 seconds to go and Baylor got the rebound.
"Initially, I was open and I should have taken the deep shot. I can make that,'' Harris said, referring to his missed 3-pointer. "I should have taken it there, but I stepped in and missed it.''
Pierre Jackson, who would finish with 15 points and five assists, made two free throws with 17.9 seconds to play to make it 65-62, then West Virginia never really got off a shot to tie. Juwan Staten couldn't find Harris or anyone else and had to throw up a shot that was blocked just ahead of the buzzer.
"I wasn't really thinking about whether it was a good shot or not,'' said Staten, who hasn't made a 3-pointer since he was a freshman at Dayton in 2011. "Time was running out and we needed a 3 and I had the ball.''
His shot was partially blocked and didn't get within 15 feet of the basket.
"It's tough when it's a three-point game and you have to get a 3 and the defense knows that,'' Baylor coach Scott Drew said of the final WVU possession. I thought we defended it well and Isaiah did a good job contesting the shot. It's tough shooting over that guy.''
Isaiah Austin, a 7-foot-1 freshman center, led Baylor with 21 points.
The Mountaineers had built as much as a nine-point lead in the first half and settled for a five-point edge at halftime, then held a slim lead throughout the first 10 minutes of the second half. The difference was as much as seven at one point, 39-32.
But Baylor slowly chipped away, going inside for the most part and scoring on layups and free throws to stay close. That finally changed when Gary Franklin and Isaiah Austin made back-to-back 3-pointers for a team that had missed 12 of 14 to that point and Baylor had its first lead since midway through the first half. By the eight-minute mark, the Bears led 55-50.
It stayed that way until Baylor increased its lead to six, 61-55, with just under four minutes to play before the Mountaineers narrowed the gap to set up their last-gasp run.
West Virginia played well enough in the first half to take a 34-29, although that was down from a high of 30-21 a few minutes before the break.
Harris had 14 points to lead the Mountaineers in the first half as they shot 44.4 percent and held a 22-14 rebounding edge.
The Mountaineers trailed the Bears by 17-11 before going on a 19-4 run during which Harris and Terry Henderson combined for 12 of the points. That gave WVU a 30-21 lead before Baylor chipped away a bit.
The Bears got 13 first-half points from Austin. But Baylor was ice cold for the most part. The same team that made nine 3-pointers in that 80-60 win over the Mountaineers two weeks ago, was just 2-for-7 in the first half and 4-for-18 for the game. Brady Heslip, who had six 3-pointers in the first game, missed all six of his tries Wednesday night.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.
Baylor 65, West Virginia 62