By Dave Hickman
WACO, Texas - A few minutes after Juwan Staten's late layup had given West Virginia a 66-64 win over Baylor Tuesday night, Staten stood just outside his team's locker room and tried to explain the impetus behind the play.
He talked about Bob Huggins designing it for him and how he appreciated the faith that WVU's coach puts in him.
But then, when the question became just a bit more specific, Staten fessed up. It wasn't exactly a play as much as it was a broad idea.
"Yeah, it wasn't really a play,'' Staten admitted. "He pretty much just told me that the ball was going to be in my hands, run the shot clock down and then make something happen. So that's what I did.''
In truth, that happens a lot in game-ending situations for West Virginia. Staten is among the best in the Big 12 at simply getting to the basket and making something happen, and with the game on the line Tuesday night at the Ferrell Center he did just that.
With 36.5 seconds to play and after Baylor had just tied the game at 64, Staten dribbled out the shot clock without ever giving up the ball, then eventually drove to the basket and made a reverse layup with 3.1 seconds to play.
When the Mountaineers survived a last-second shot - Baylor's Kenny Chery hit a desperation 3-pointer that would have won the game, but it came after the buzzer - they had a much-needed win.
"Just the fact that [Chery] made the shot, you had to think, 'Really?' '' West Virginia's Eron Harris said. "Not again. But it didn't count. That's what matters.''
Indeed, after all the problems West Virginia has had this season closing out games, a last-second shot to lose might have seemed nothing out of the ordinary. But finally it didn't happen to the Mountaineers, who needed a win like this in the worst way.
"It's big because a lot of people were writing us off,'' Staten said. "They were saying we were the same as last year [when WVU finished 13-19]. We're not.''
The win was rather significant for West Virginia for a couple of reasons. For starters, the Mountaineers (12-9, 4-4 Big 12) managed to avoid a sweep on their two-game trip to the southwest and would have been losers of five of the last six with a defeat. They lost 81-75 at Oklahoma State Saturday.
Perhaps just as significantly, though, it was West Virginia's first win since joining the Big 12 last season over a team other than Texas, Texas Tech or TCU. While WVU is 9-1 in regular-season Big 12 play against those three schools, it was 0-15 against everyone else. The Mountaineers play Kansas State at home on Saturday.
Baylor, though, might not be quite what it appeared at the beginning of the season. The Bears (13-7, 1-6) were ranked as high as No. 7 in the country earlier this month but have now lost five in a row and six of seven.
Still, this was a significant win if for no other reason the Mountaineers found a way to get it done, something they had not been able to do much this season in close games.
"I think we're feeling really good right now,'' Staten said. "It was getting a little annoying finding ways to lose.''
They nearly found a way in this one, too. As was the case Saturday at Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers got into foul trouble and had rebounding issues. The former left WVU without a center for much of the game, or at least playing one who had to be careful because of fouls. Both Brandon Watkins and Kevin Noreen fouled out.
That absence of size helped contribute to Baylor outrebounding the Mountaineers by a ton (20-9) in the first half. It was better in the second, primarily because Huggins used halftime to guilt his players into taking more of an interest in the boards. The fact that Baylor turned the ball over 17 times also helped negate the effects of the rebounding deficit.
Still, despite West Virginia leading nearly the entire game - the Mountaineers took the lead at 10-9 and Baylor never led again, although the Bears did tie it a few times - WVU had to hang on at the end. Harris made two free throws with 4:55 to play to make the lead bigger than it had been all game, 64-56, but until Staten's game-winner 4:52 later the Mountaineers didn't score a single point.
Baylor tied it thanks to a freak putback that was pretty much accidental, a Brady Heslip 3-pointer and three free throws, the last one by Rico Gathers tying the score at 64.
But all that did was give West Virginia a chance to finally claim a dramatic win, which it did thanks to Staten's basket.
In a way, it was surprising Baylor allowed Staten to take the clock down and score that late. On the previous possession the Bears fouled him before he could get to the basket. He missed both shots and was an uncharacteristic 1 for 6 at the line. A foul would have forced Staten to shoot from there again and allowed Baylor more time to counter.
It was a surprise to Staten, too.
"I actually thought they would foul or send somebody at me and make me kick,'' Staten said. "I was surprised I got all the way to the basket.''
Had he been forced to kick the ball out to a shooter, that might have been a coin flip. Harris, the logical shooter, was 2 for on 3-pointers and 4 for 14 overall in the game. Remi Dibo had a big night with three 3s, but he had gone cold. That Staten kept the ball was probably for the best.
Staten led West Virginia with 15 points, while Dibo had 13, Harris 12 and Henderson 11. Staten also had nine assists and just one turnover.
Heslip led Baylor with 13 points, Taurean Prince had 11 and Chery 11.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or dphickm...@aol.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.