By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Terry Maston missed five of his six shots from the field, scored only four points and had just turned it over for the third time when he made arguably the biggest play of the game.
After his pass to 7-footer Jo Lual-Acuil was deflected by the Texas Longhorns' Mo Bamba, Maston ripped the ball from freshman guard Jase Febres and converted a pair of free throws to help the Baylor Bears avoid their first 0-3 conference start in 12 years with a 69-60 victory before a Ferrell Center crowd of 7,119.
"I was really just trying to get it back," Maston said. "I know I had made one mistake. But, like coach (Scott) Drew says, `don't let one mistake lead to two,''' the 6-foot-8 senior forward said. "I just wanted to get it back for my team and change the momentum."
Maston hit the free throws with 2:07 to go and then blocked Dylan Osetkowski's follow shot after a miss by Bamba on the other end. The Longhorns (10-5, 1-2) went scoreless over the last five minutes, missing their last nine shots and turning it over three times.
"We got tentative," Texas coach Shaka Smart said. "We passed up a couple shots that were really good looks that we didn't take. Then, we didn't execute. The other night against Iowa State, we executed down the stretch, and this was completely the flip side of that. When you combine that stuff - not being aggressive enough, being too tentative and not executing the right way - that's what led to our offensive struggles."
Baylor gave up 40 points in the first half, but nearly half of the Longhorns' points (17) were off the Bears' seven turnovers.
"There's no defense for 2-on-1 breaks, 3-on-2 breaks," Drew said. "The first thing is we couldn't turn it over and give them easies. I thought our defense was pretty good in the first half when we were set, so we had to get set."
The other issue was finding Febres, the 6-5 freshman guard making his first start. After hitting just 7-of-35 and scoring a combined 21 points in his first 11 games, Febres hit four 3-pointers and poured in 18 first-half points on 7-of-9 shooting.
"We knew he liked Baylor, because he narrowed it down to us and Texas (in recruiting)," Drew said. "We just didn't know he liked the floor that much."
Febres said he just "came in with confidence, aggressiveness, playing loose."
"I'm a shooter, which I'm very comfortable (against the zone) and just got to open spots," said Febres, who was scoreless in the first half, missing his only two shots. "My teammates fed me the ball in the right areas. So, whenever they gave me the ball, I knew I had to be shot-ready and ready to shoot."
Despite Febres' hot first half, the Bears erased most of a seven-point deficit in the last minute of the half when Jake Lindsey scored off a steal and then fed Manu Lecomte for a 3-pointer that made it a two-point game, 40-38, at the break.
"Finishing with Manu's 3 at the half was a good way to give us momentum," Drew said.
That carried over to the second half, when the Bears scored on their first three possessions and then took the lead for good on another 3-pointer by Lecomte, who finished with 17 points after scoring 16 points combined in the first two conference games.
"At the beginning of the second half, I thought the guys really did a great job coming out and not turning it over, getting back on defense, one-and-done," Drew said. "Then, we were able to get some easies in transition, get a lead. And then it got to a typical Big 12 game where neither team could score."
The marquee matchup that attracted 11 NBA scouts and the Chicago Bulls' general manager was between Lual-Acuil and the 6-11 Bamba, who's been projected to go in the top three picks in this year's NBA Draft. Lual-Acuil backed up his 28-point, 11-rebound performance against TCU with 17 points, six rebounds and four blocks, while Bamba had 15 points, nine boards, five blocks and two steals.
"He played from behind a lot, so I thought I was going to be able to get my moves a little bit quicker without the guys digging in," Bamba said. "What I learned from this was that it was a physical game, it was a very physical game. I got to play harder and got to play harder for longer."
Baylor led by as many as nine, going up 55-46 on a pair of Lindsey free throws at the 11:52 mark in the midst of a nearly four-minute scoring drought by the Longhorns. UT was just 9-of-35 in the second half after a cool 15-of-35 in the first half.
"We always preach defense and to keep them under a certain field goal percentage," Maston said. "We were just trying to achieve that goal and play hard and play for each other. . . . Every game is going to be a grind, so we have to stay together and get it."
Texas pulled back within two twice and made it a three-point game, 63-60, when Bamba drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 5:03 left. But, those were the last points the Longhorns would score and the last made field goal of the game.
Baylor closed it out on a 6-0 run with free throws by Maston, Lecomte and freshman forward Mark Vital, who had 10 points, seven rebounds and one send-it-to-the seats rejection.
"Mark, especially after the first couple games, has been adjusting nice and done a great job," Drew said. "And defensively, he really exerts so much energy, it allows everybody else to play at a higher level."
The Bears go back on the road for their next two, facing No. 5/6 West Virginia (13-1, 2-0) on Tuesday in Morgantown and Iowa State (9-5, 0-3) next Saturday, Jan. 13, in Ames.