By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Baylor Bears, the No. 1-ranked team in the country - get used to hearing that.
Overcoming a seven-point, second-half deficit, the Bears (15-0, 3-0) rallied to beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys, 61-57, before a sellout crowd of 10,627 Saturday night at the Ferrell Center.
With top-ranked Villanova falling to Butler earlier in the week, Baylor is now in position to move into the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press poll for the first time in school history.
"Not many people get a chance to be ranked No. 1, and that's a great honor," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Baylor Nation deserves it, because they helped us get here. We're glad to make them proud and happy and give them something to be excited about. Big picture, we know no one is going to remember who is ranked No. 1 the first week of January. We're on to other things and trying to control what we can control."
Manu Lecomte, who hit the game winner to beat Iowa State three nights earlier, drained three clutch free throws in the last 35 seconds and finished with a team-high 17 points as the Bears moved to 15-0 for just the second time ever.
But, it was the contributions from 6-foot-8 junior forward Terry Maston off the bench that Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood said was a "big, big difference in the game."
"To their credit, I thought Maston was off-the-charts," Underwood said of Maston, who was 5-for-8 from the floor and finished with 11 points and five boards.
Maston came up with a big offensive rebound off a miss by Lecomte with 4:08 to play, leading to a Jake Lindsey 3-pointer that gave the Bears a 56-52 lead.
"I tried to get as many offensive boards as I could," Maston said. "They were getting all of them and led 9-2 (in offensive rebounds) at halftime. We needed to get some more second-chance points, and that was the difference in the game."
Oklahoma State (10-5, 0-3), which started league play with three straight losses for the first time in the Big 12 era, used its slow-down tactics and physical defense to take a 30-25 lead in the first half. The Cowboys outrebounded the taller Bears, 21-13, and had eight more second-chance points, 10-2.
"They were really aggressive and physical, and it took a little time for us to get used to it," Drew said. "After we did, I think we responded a little better. But, credit them for doing a great job being physical."
Baylor started the second half with six straight points by Motley with a dunk, a pair of free throws and a layup off a steal by Ishmail Wainright, regaining the lead at 31-30. But, OSU answered with eight straight points on back-to-back treys by Jawun Evans and Phil Forte and a Forte floater to match the Cowboys' biggest lead, 38-31.
The Bears tied it up on a pair of Maston buckets and a Lecomte 3-pointer, then took the lead for good, 50-48, on Al Freeman's free throws with 6:29 to play.
"We had a better rhythm in the second half," Drew said. "Credit them for making everything hard for us to get into. Coach Underwood's style is to take you out of what you feel comfortable with. We were able to get a couple buckets in transition. Cred our guys for defending when we weren't scoring."
Baylor was outrebounded, 35-30, but held the Cowboys to 32.1 percent shooting in the second half and 34.5 percent for the game (19-of-55). Forte had 17, hitting 5-of-7 from 3-point range, with Jeffrey Carroll adding 14 for OSU.
Leading by as many as six, the Bears were able to stay in front when OSU missed two of four free throws on one trip. For the game, the Cowboys were just 11-of-20 from the line.
"It's very frustrating," Underwood said. "I think we were shooting 77 percent (from the line) coming in. You have those nights. You just hope they don't happen very often."
After Lecomte hit 3-of-4 free throws to push Baylor's lead back to 61-56, Evans missed a 3-pointer that would have at least made things interesting and then hit one of two free throws with 1.2 seconds left to provide the final margin.
Drew said the crowd, which included new head football coach Matt Rhule sitting in the Bear Pit student section, "definitely affected the game and had an impact and was a big reason why we're ranked where we're ranked."
With the new polls released Monday, the Bears will go on the road to face No. 7 West Virginia (13-2, 2-1) at 6 p.m. CST Tuesday in Morgantown. The Mountaineers bounced back from a loss at Texas Tech to beat TCU, 82-70.
"It's great to be No. 1, but it's kind of hard to really appreciate knowing we have to go to West Virginia in two days," Maston said. "That's pretty tough, especially taking the (loss) last year. We owe those guys some redemption."
Underwood, in his first year at OSU after a successful stint at Stephen F. Austin, said the Bears are "very deserving" of a No. 1 ranking after wins earlier this year over Oregon, Xavier, Michigan State and Louisville, when they rallied from a 20-point halftime deficit.
"Nothing rattles them," he said. "This is an old, experienced basketball team. . . . They're going to be No. 1 on Monday. Remember where they were when (Drew) got here. They shouldn't take that lightly. Let's not forget the job when he took over, the remarkable job he's done. That team wins because they're very close, they're very old and nothing rattles them."