By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
With its season and any postseason hopes on the line, Baylor played maybe its best half of basketball this season.
Senior forward Terry Maston scored 19 of his career-high 23 points in the second half as the Bears (13-10, 3-7) overcame a two-point halftime deficit to blow past the Iowa State Cyclones, 81-67, Saturday night before a raucous Ferrell Center crowd of 6,852.
"The crowd was tremendous, it was great energy," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Analytics will tell you, home-court advantage is big. I thought when we came out, the crowd really gave us a lift. And then once we gave them more to cheer about, they did a great job continuing to carry that momentum for us."
Two things changed in a big way in the second half. Baylor "couldn't throw it in the ocean" from outside the arc, hitting just 2-of-14 from 3-point range. But in the second half, the Bears emphasized taking it right at the smaller Cyclones (12-10, 3-7) and scored 32 of their 51 second-half points in the paint.
"When we went into halftime, they told us to be very aggressive and take the ball to the basket," said Maston, who was a cool 9-of-11 from the floor and 5-of-5 from the line, adding five rebounds, one assist and a block in 27 minutes. "I know I was shooting a couple fade-away jumpers (in the first half), and they told me to get in there and basically force my will into the paint and get easy buckets." For Iowa State coach Steve Prohm, it started with freshman Mark Vitale driving the baseline for a powerful dunk on the Bears' opening possession of the second half. Immediately, the tone was set. "It was drive, drive, drive, and then it was post feed, post feed, post feed," Prohm said. "Fifty-two points allowed in the paint, you can't win on the road with that."
Perhaps an even bigger adjustment was Baylor switching from its man-to-man to predominantly zone defense in the second half. Frustrated by the different look, Iowa State freshman guard Lindell Wigginton was scoreless on 0-for-7 shooting in the second half after scoring 30 against the Bears in the Cyclones' 75-65 home-court win last month and 14 points in the first half Saturday night.
"I thought the second half, we really had a more concerted effort to just make sure he became a passer more than a scorer," Drew said of Wiggington, who finished with 14 points, eight assists and three turnovers. "That zone gives you different shot attempts, gives you different opportunities. And in the man, he was really attacking downhill and getting some better looks." Although Drew "sensed desperation the last couple games," the 6-9 Maston said the Bears "coming together and saying what we're going to do made that desperation lower a little bit."
"Just saying we're going to take it one game at a time and not try to do things we're not capable of doing," Maston said. "We're just going to stick to our principles and trust what we've been doing and execute to perfection."
Baylor's execution could not have been any more spot-on than during a 15-0 run over a 2 ½-minute stretch in the second half, when the Bears turned a two-point deficit into a 13-point lead, 51-38. Manu Lecomte, who finished with 14 points and four assists, had a pair of three-point plays in that run with driving layups and follow free throws. King McClure converted another three-point play, Lecomte drained a pair of free throws when Prohm was hit with a technical, and Maston capped the run when he drove by Iowa State defender Hans Brase. For a layup.
"The offense was really clicking and flowing great," Maston said. "Once our defense comes into play, I think we're very tough to beat. We just have to provde energy and motivate each other."
Iowa State had its chances, clawing back to within eight on a layup by Zoran Talley Jr., at the 11:55 mark. But, four different Cyclones missed shots on the same possession and came up empty.
"With a team as dangerous as them," Drew said, "not to let them get into a two-possession or one-possession game was very important.
Baylor dominated inside, outrebounding Iowa State, 43-35, and finishing with a 52-28 edge in points in the paint. Jo Lual-Acuil recorded his 10th double-double of the season with 10 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks, while Nuni Omot and Jake Lindsey had nine points apiece.
Lual-Acuil said the key to the game was that Baylor was "not playing from behind, because those runs take a lot out of you.
"We just have to celebrate this one, but we have another big one on Tuesday," Lual-Acuil said of Tuesday's road matchup at Oklahoma State (14-9, 4-6). The Cowboys are coming off a stunning 84-79 win over seventh-ranked Kansas in Lawrence. "That's the way it is now for us: Every game is a big game."