By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
LUBBOCK, Texas - Lester Medford came into Saturday's game feeling a little under the weather, and things didn't get much better.
Baylor's senior point guard made just two of his first six shots from the field, missed two from the line and had as many turnovers as fouls (four).
But with the game on the line and time running out, Medford drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key as the 22nd-ranked Bears escaped with a thrilling 63-60 victory before a crowd of 12,827 at United Supermarkets Arena.
"That's how we drew it up," said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team improved to 14-3 overall and tied for first in the Big 12 at 4-1 with its fourth straight win and second on the road. "Coaches have to say that when things work, because we know when it doesn't work it's our fault."
Medford, who had nine points, five assists, four turnovers and two assists, said the Bears "didn't play that well, but we found a way to get it done."
"There were other options," Medford said of the last play, which was drawn up on a timeout with 8.1 seconds left. "(The Tech defender) just backed up a lot, and it was a tied game. I hadn't shot it well, but I felt like it was going to go in."
Baylor led by as many as 11 in the first half and had a seven-point lead at the break, 36-29. But the Bears scored just two points in the first 7 ½ minutes of the second half and found themselves trailing, 39-38, when Tech freshman Zach Smith drove in for a layup.
Drew gave the Red Raiders (11-5, 1-4) and coach Tubby Smith credit for their defense early in the second half, when the Bears missed their first four shots and turned it over twice. Baylor's only points in that stretch came on a wide-open layup by freshman King McClure off an inbounds play.
"We shot 50 percent (25-of-50), but we turned it over 14 times and didn't get the normal assists we get," Drew said. "We missed a layup, missed two free throws. Those are killers when they can be and-ones. When you're making buckets, making shots, that's when we started to score."
In a back-and-forth game that featured eight second-half lead changes, Baylor actually went on a late 8-0 run after Medford went to the bench with his fourth foul.
Sophomore guard Al Freeman, who scored a team-high 14 points, went coast to coast for a layup that gave the Bears the lead back at 52-51 and sandwiched four free throws around a Jake Lindsey bank shot. With just over two minutes to play, Tech was down by seven, 58-51.
"We knew we just needed to get stops," said Freeman, who had struggled with three first-half turnovers. "We just wanted to focus on the defensive end. When you get stops, it allows you to run in transition and get easy shots."
Medford said the key to the win was the way the rest of the team hung together when two of their senior leaders were both on the bench with four fouls.
"You just have to put a lot of trust in your teammates," he said. "I was very proud of my team, because when I was out, they hunkered down. They die their job, and that's what a great team does."
At the 2:04 mark, with the shot clock winding down, Lindsey was called for a three-shot foul when Toddrick Gotcher launched a desperation shot from well beyond the 3-point arc. That gave the Red Raiders new life.
Gotcher sank all three free throws, followed by a pair from Smith that made it a one-possession game at 58-56. Sophomore Terry Maston answered with a layup that pushed the lead back to four, but Devaughntah Williams weaved between the trees and somehow made a layup that cut it back to a two-point deficit.
Williams then made one of the biggest plays of the game on the other end when he knocked the ball away from Medford and off his foot after a beautiful beat-the-press heave from Ish Wainright that looked like it would lead to a back-breaking layup.
Instead, when the officials went to the monitor for a review, the play was overturned and gave Tech the ball back down by two.
"I've got to make the play," Medford said. "Ish made a great pass, and I've just got to finish it."
After Smith tied it with a soft baseline jumper, Medford got a chance at redemption when Drew called a timeout with 8.1 seconds left. The senior point guard looked inside, but dribbled off all but the last couple seconds before launching a trey that found nothing but net as time expired.
"It feels good, just because it was a tough game and we didn't play that well, but we found a way to get it done," he said. "I'm just so proud of my team, because they stayed with it."
The Bears got great production from its bench for the third straight game, with the 6-7 Maston scoring 12 of the reserve's 26 points. Tech won a close rebounding battle, 28-27, but Big 12 leader Rico Gathers had 13 boards to go with seven points and a block.
Strapped with foul trouble, senior forward Taurean Prince didn't even take a shot in the second half and finished with seven points and only one board. Williams had 16 and Aaron Ross 14 for the Red Raiders, who have now lost four in a row since opening league play with an 82-74 win over Texas.
"We knew coming in that it was going to be a hard-fought game, and if we were blessed enough to win it was going to come down to a couple possessions," Drew said. "I'm really proud of how we held our composure."
Baylor plays four of its next five at home, hosting Kansas State (11-6, 1-4) at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday and second-ranked Oklahoma (15-1, 4-1) at 11 a.m. next Saturday, Jan. 23.