By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
NORMAN, Okla. - Trae Young is every bit as good as advertised. No, check that, he's better. The Oklahoma sharp-shooter is the hands-down favorite to win National Freshman of the Year, maybe even Player of the Year.
But, even on a night when Young poured in 31 of his 44 points in the second half, the visiting Baylor Bears still had a chance to pull one out on the road against the 12th-ranked Sooners.
In a script painfully familiar, Baylor (12-10, 2-7) couldn't hold the lead after King McClure drained a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 65 ticks left in the game Tuesday night at the Lloyd Noble Center as Oklahoma (16-5, 6-3) scored five unanswered points and somehow escaped with a 98-96 win before a crowd of 10,574.
The Bears have now taken three top-15 teams down to the wire on the road, but have nothing to show for it.
"You guys are going to sleep a lot better than I will tonight," Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
Jo Lual-Acuil missed a wide-open 3-pointer, then Jake Lindsey missed the front end of a one-and-one with 4.7 seconds left that would have tied it up or given the Bears the lead. But, it was a rebound Baylor didn't get that will give Drew some restless nights.
After Lual-Acuil's long-distance miss, Young drove inside and missed a shot from point-blank range, but he got the rebound, was fouled and sank both free throws to give the Sooners a one-point lead, 97-96, with 23.4 seconds left.
"That's the big one," Drew said. "Credit them for coming up with it, and that's a big play, but you've got to get those. You can't give players like Trae Young second opportunities. . . . The rebound late was the difference, in my opinion. We've lost a lot of close ones, and we haven't rebounded down the stretch. That hurts the most."
Every defender got their shot in the barrel against Young, "and I thought we did a good job at the end," Baylor senior point guard Manu Lecomte said.
"It's the little details," said Lecomte, who hit a career-high seven 3-pointers and finished one off his career best with 29 points. "Like Coach said, the last rebound was really the key. . . . I thought we put up a great fight the whole game. That's a very good offensive team, obviously, a great team. We just came up short."
Drew said Lindsey was "crying in the locker room, thinking he cost us the game" after missing the game-tying free throw in the final seconds.
"He didn't cost us the game. Everybody misses free throws," Drew said. "But, he's a winner and he's going to take it hard. And that's what you expect from winners."
Lecomte, Lindsey and Tyson Jolly all took turns trying to defend the 6-2 Young. Even the 7-footer Lual-Acuil ended up guarding him off some ball screens. His deep 3-pointers are "obviously elite," Drew said, but where he really hurt the Bears was hitting 16-of-19 from the free throw line.
"What we tried to do was not get him on the free throw line," Drew said. "And you can see we weren't effective there. . . . He got to the line more than our whole team (11-of-16). There's no defense there. He did a great job getting fouled. That was the best thing he did."
It took two players to do it, but Baylor did find a way to match Young. Lecomte and Nuni Omot combined to hit 13 3-pointers and score 52 points. Averaging just 6.0 points in the first eight conference games, the 6-9 Omot scored 23 points and hit 6-of-6 from 3-point range, breaking the school record for most 3's in a game without a miss.
"It was my teammates, they did a good job finding me and had confidence in me shooting it," Omot said. "They told me, every time I was open, shoot it. And that's what I did."
The Bears avoided the slow starts that had plagued them recently, leading by as many as five, 14-9, when Lindsey drove in for a layup.
Young, criticized for taking 39 shots in a 48-point performance in the Sooners' loss at Oklahoma State, didn't even take a shot until the 11:55 mark when he buried a 3-pointer for a 22-19 lead. He had a quiet 13 points with seven assists in the first half, but Rashard Odomes, Khadeem Lattin and freshman forward Brady Manek helped OU take a 52-46 lead into the break.
"I don't think you can say I was inefficient tonight," said Young, who was 11-of-20 overall and 6-of-11 from 3-point range. "When (Odomes, Manek and Lattin) are knocking down shots, it's a lot easier for me to score, and they did a great job of that tonight."
Battling back from a nine-point first-half deficit, Baylor rallied to tie it, 76-76, on a Lecomte trey with 8:45 to go. Young hit five straight free throws before back-to-back 3-pointers by Omot and Lecomte pushed the Bears back in front, 89-87.
McClure's 3-pointer from the top of the key, his only bucket of the night, gave Baylor a 96-93 lead going into the final minute of the game.
But, it was the Bears' close-out struggles that reared their ugly head again.
Lecomte pointed out that this one isn't on Lindsey, who had six points and four assists in his sixth career start.
"I missed a free throw, King missed a free throw," Lecomte said. "I missed a 3 at the end. It's not just one shot. It's the other stuff that we can do better. We can't control making shots all the time, so I told him it's not a big deal at all."
Lual-Acuil finished a rebound shy of a double-double with 14 points, nine rebounds and two blocks, while Lattin had 15 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks for the Sooners.
Baylor, which lost its fourth in a row, comes back home to host Iowa State (11-9, 2-6) at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Ferrell Center. After playing three of their last four on the road, the Bears will stay home for five of their next eight.