By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Baylor, which didn't have a single vote in any of the preseason polls, is now one win away from being the No. 1-ranked team in the country.
On a night that saw top-ranked Villanova fall from the dwindling ranks of the unbeaten, the No. 2 Bears (14-0) rallied from a six-point deficit and pulled out a 65-63 win over Iowa State Wednesday night with Manu Lecomte knocking down a short baseline jumper with 8.6 seconds left.
"That was a tough shot. They played good defense," said Lecomte, who had struggled all night, hitting just two of his first nine shots and turning it over four times. "The whole game, I couldn't make shots, but my teammates kept believing in me. Coach (Scott) Drew kept in me in the game, so I just had to keep shooting."
Iowa State (9-4, 1-1), which didn't score in the last 2:20 of the game, had a chance to tie it in the final seconds. But, point guard Monte Morris came up short on a similar baseline jumper over Ishmail Wainright as the buzzer sounded.
"(It) really shouldn't have come down to that lost possession," said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm, whose team has now had two-point losses to Baylor and Gonzaga and a one-point loss to No. 22 Cincinnati. "We were up 61-55, and we had some opportunities to make some plays, and we didn't make them. We've got to stay in attack mode. We just didn't finish some plays when we needed a bucket or two."
With Nova getting knocked off by No. 18 Butler, 66-58, earlier in the night, Baylor and No. 5/4 Gonzaga (14-0) are now the only remaining undefeated Division I teams in the country. The Bears would likely move up to No. 1 for the first time in program history with a win at home in Saturday's 6 p.m. game against Oklahoma State (10-4, 0-2).
Johnathan Motley, who posted his third straight double-double and fifth of the season with 13 points and 12 rebounds, said the Bears are "not worried about the rankings. We just have to handle business every day."
"Honestly, everyone would love to be ranked No. 1," Drew said. "But, our bigger goals and our more important goals are the conference and after conference. So, you chase the bigger goals. We know Oklahoma State is our next game, we know it's a home game, and we know they're an excellent team."
Like Butler did to Villanova, Iowa State looked like it might spoil Baylor's night, knocking down eight first-half 3-pointers and going into the halftime break trailing by just one, 37-36.
The Cyclones took the lead, 41-40, on a driving layup by Naz Mitrou-Long at the 15:57 mark and stayed on top for the majority of the second half until Lecomte's game-winner on the Bears' last possession of the game.
With a 6-0 run, Baylor took the lead briefly when Terry Maston hit a layup off a feed from Motley to put the Bears up, 53-52, with 9:25 to go. But, Iowa State answered with seven unanswered points on a 3-pointer and jumper by Deonte Burton and floater by Morris to take its biggest lead of the night, 59-53.
Iowa State still had a six-point lead with under five minutes to play, but the Cyclones missed five of their last six shots and turned it over once, scoring just two points down the stretch.
"It's just staying aggressive when we've got the lead," said Mitrou-Long, who missed a 3-pointer with 1:36 left that would have given the Cyclones the lead. "We got away from that, and I definitely believe that's the guards' fault. We weren't getting in the gap, we were being stagnant up top, everyone one of us."
Motley knocked down a shot to begin the comeback, then got a steal that led to a pair of free throws by Jo Lual-Acuil that made it a two-point game, 61-59, with 4:06 to play. Jake Lindsey tied it up on a driving shot off the glass before Burton gave Iowa State the lead back on a jumper in the lane.
Lual-Acuil, who had a team-high 15 points and eight boards, hit a layup that tied it again with 2:05 remaining. After missed opportunities by both teams, Drew called a timeout with 24.6 seconds left to draw up the last play.
"We wanted to make sure we took the clock down to as late as possible," Drew said, with about a six-second difference in the shot clock and game clock. "We wanted to make sure what defense we were in and what play we were going to run. So, we did all that and then trusted our players to make all the right reads and make the right decisions."
After driving to the baseline, Lecomte said he could have hit Motley in the post, "but I thought I found a zone and thought I could drop back and shoot a little floater."
"Point guards got to have floaters, especially 5-10 point guards like me," he said. "I had a good feel for it. . . . My teammates and coaches believed in me to make the right plays, so I really appreciated that. I just had to make the right play and stay aggressive and do what I do."
After the shot went through, the refs went over to the scorer's table and put four-tenths of a second back on the clock, a stoppage in play that Prohm felt adversely affected the Cyclones.
"I don't even want to start on that, because I've had this happen. . . I don't even want to get into that," he said. "But, that's happened to me several times to where we're flowing, we've already gone over what we're doing . . ."
On the play stoppage, head referee Joe DeRosa said, "By rule, once the ball clears the net, the clock should stop. I had definite knowledge that it ran forward after the ball cleared the net, so we kill it. We ended up putting four-tenths of a second back on the clock to 8.6 If they take a shot and it's one-tenth late, they can come back and say that the clock was wrong after it cleared the net and we didn't do our job. So, by rule, we have to make sure of what the time was when the ball cleared the net. It was 8.6, so that's why we added 0.4."
Long, who hit three 3-pointers and scored a game-high 17 points, said the plan was to try to get off another trey, but "they played it well, denied everything, and kind of created enough space where we couldn't get to it."
"We're fine with Monte having isolation situations," Long said. "He didn't make it tonight, (but) he makes those shots. He was big down the stretch for us. It was a tough one at the end."
Lindsey had 10 points off the bench, while sophomore guard King McClure started in place of Al Freeman and had seven points, three rebounds, one assist and a steal in 11 minutes. Wainright had only two points on 1-of-8 shooting, but added seven rebounds and a game-high eight assists.
"We kept fighting to the end," Lecomte said. "The team had a lot of energy on the bench. People coming off the bench playing great - TJ (Maston), Jake and all of them. But yeah, we just kept fighting. That's us."