By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
FORT WORTH, Texas - Since TCU joined the Big 12 four years ago, the Baylor men's basketball team's trips up the road have been like a nice walk in the park.
That wasn't the case Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 7,276 at Schollmaier Arena.
Down by two at the break and still trailing with under five minutes to play, the second-ranked Bears closed with a 15-5 run and pulled away late for a 62-53 victory over the Horned Frogs for their third win in a row and third on the road in Big 12 play.
"The day after the game, it's amazing how drained everybody is. I hope fans enjoy it, because we're worn out," said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team improved to 6-1 in the Big 12 and 18-1 overall, the best 19-game start in program history. "I thought in the second half, we did a better job guarding the (3-point) arc. That was big. The second thing is we did a better job rebounding down the stretch. And we were able to execute and make free throws."
Junior point guard Manu Lecomte drained three first-half 3-pointers, then hit 4-of-5 free throws in the last 45 seconds, scoring a team-high 17 points. The 1-2 inside punch of Johnathan Motley and Jo Lual-Acuil added 15 and 11 points, respectively, and hit 11-of-24 from the floor.
"They came out and played us real tough," said Motley, who added eight rebounds, two assists and one steal. "In the first half, they kind of got the best of us. In the second half, we picked it up back. I think we picked up the intensity and played harder and got the (win)."
In a second half that featured five ties and 13 lead changes, the Bears opened with an 8-0 run that included layups by Motley, Lual-Acuil, Ishmail Wainright and Lecomte and went up 34-28.
The Horned Frogs (14-5, 3-4) answered with seven straight points and regained the lead, 35-34. Kenrich Williams, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds, got it started with a 3-pointer and capped it with a layup off a feed from freshman point guard Jalyen Fisher.
Over the next 12 minutes, there were 10 lead changes and neither team led by more than four points.
TCU fans started chants of "Air ball!" after Lecomte and Al Freeman both shot air balls from outside the 3-point arc. They were still echoing loudly through the arena when Wainright buried a trey from the top of the circle to put Baylor in the lead for good, 50-48, with 4:16 to play.
"I air-balled one; Al, too," Lecomte said. "And the fans made sure they let us know. It didn't matter. We just stayed aggressive, and my teammates trusted me to shoot again."
Wainright has knocked down 47 career 3-pointers, but he came in hitting just 27.7 percent from 3-point range this season and missed his first two attempts in Saturday's game.
"Ish is capable of making 3's, and for some reason this year he hasn't made as many in games we feel he's capable of," Drew said. "In practice, he does, so we always encourage him to shoot. If he has a good look, it's a good shot."
Motley scored off an offensive rebound of his own miss the next time down, then Lecomte nailed a pull-up jumper from the right wing to extend the Bears' lead out to 54-48 and forcing TCU coach Jamie Dixon to use one of his last timeouts.
"We just had to get stops," Lecomte said. "Three stops in a row, and we knew we were going to be good. . . . We made sure we kept feeding the bigs, easy baskets, and we just had to make plays."
One of Lecomte's biggest plays came when he tracked down a loose ball against TCU's press, took off for the races and fed to Lual-Acuil for a slam dunk that made it 56-50. He fed Motley for another dunk, then made four free throws in the last 45 seconds to help the Bears secure their ninth comeback win of the season.
Asked about his team's ability to close out close games, Drew quipped, "You trying to jinx us?"
"(We're) blessed to have great leadership from the upperclassmen," Drew said. "They don't panic, they don't rattle, they stay together. And they believe in each other."
On the flip side, the Frogs missed nine of their last 11 shots and were a dismal 1-for-12 from outside the 3-point arc in the second half. Junior forward Vlad Brodziansky posted a double-double with 19 points and 10 boards.
"Obviously, (we've) got some disappointed guys in that locker room," Dixon said. "We believe we should have won that game, but we recognize what we need to do better. People say you need to go through games like that, or have the last to we'd like, or have the last two like we had. My feelings is we were ready win them, and we were prepared. And we did things right, we did things necessary."
Baylor will host Texas Tech (14-5 3-4) at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The Red Raiders knocked off TCU, 75-69, before falling at home to Oklahoma State, 83-64.