By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
STILLWATER, Okla. - After arguably 36 of the best minutes sixth-ranked Baylor has played all season, the Bears nearly gave it all away in the last four Wednesday night at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Oklahoma State forced four straight turnovers, reeled off 12 unanswered points to pull within one and had a chance to take the lead in the closing seconds.
But, Jo Lual-Acuil blocked a driving layup by Jawun Evans and Manu Lecomte knocked down a pair of clutch free throws with 13.7 seconds left to help the Bears hold on for a hard-fought 72-69 victory before a crowd of 8,170.
"Anytime you get a win in the Big 12, it's usually one-possession and it's usually earned, and we were blessed tonight to walk away with a win," said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team snapped a two-game losing streak in improving to 21-3 overall and 8-3 in the Big 12.
"We didn't execute very well at all down the stretch, to say the least . . . But, for most of the game, we play an intelligent, 19-assist game. Take out the turnovers at the end, and that's about as well as you can get on the road."
For the longest time, no one could have guessed that this game would end up being another one-possession thriller.
Baylor took a double-digit lead on the Cowboys (15-9, 4-7) at one point in the first half and stretched it to as many as 13 three different times in the second half. The last one came with 4:13 left, when Terry Maston grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Lecomte for an open 3-pointer and 70-57 lead.
"I think they had one field goal in the last three or four minutes," said OSU head coach Brad Underwood, whose team had won five in a row. "It's just convenient that it came off an offensive rebound from Maston, who did the same thing in the game at their place. And Lecomte hits their only basket in the last three or four minutes, which was a 3."
From there, though, things changed in a hurry. OSU's 12-0 run started slowly, with the Cowboys inching closer on a running hook shot by Jeffrey Carroll and a driving layup by Evans to pull within nine. The pace picked up dramatically when Evans picked Lecomte's pocket for the first of four straight turnovers, leading to a Phil Forte 3-pointer that made it 70-64 with 2:04 to play. Cameron McGriff hit one of two free throws after a steal by Carroll, then Evans converted another steal into a layup.
Asked whether it was OSU's trapping defense or Baylor just getting rattled, Drew said, "All of the above." "We didn't execute well. If we had had a timeout, I think we could have settled things down."
Out of timeouts, the Bears had to let it ride and see if they could just hang on.
After a Jake Lindsey turnover, the crowd erupted when Evans knocked down a jumper with 1:01 left, making it a one-point game, 70-69.
"It was crazy loud," said junior forward Johnathan Motley, who recorded his third straight and Big 12-leading 10th double-double of the season with 24 points and 11 rebounds. "You couldn't really hear anything. It was so loud, especially when they were on their run. It was crazy."
Much like the end of Saturday's 56-54 home-court loss to Kansas State, Motley missed a layup on the Bears' next possession, giving OSU a chance to take its first lead since scoring the first bucket of the game.
Evans looked like he had a clear path to the basket, but the 7-foot Lual-Acuil rejected his shot. Fouled by Forte after crossing mid-court, Lecomte calmly sank both free throws - the second one coming after Underwood called OSU's last timeout - to put the Bears back up by three.
Baylor's defense, which held the Cowboys to 36 percent shooting in the first half and 43 percent for the game, came up big again in the closing seconds. Lual-Acuil switched off a screen to force Evans to shoot a potential game-tying 3-pointer over him, then Lindsey made Forte take an off-balanced shot from the corner that barely drew iron as the final buzzer sounded.
"It was huge," Drew said of Lual-Acuil's block. "He was on the bench most of the game (in foul trouble). For him to come in and do that, and then he switched on the ball screen and didn't give up the 3, he contested it and made it tough."
The Bears led by as many as 10 in the first half, going up 28-18 on a slam dunk by Motley off an alley-oop pass from Ish Wainright.
Underwood said the 6-foot-10 Motley, who was 9-of-12 from the floor and 6-of-8 from the line, "showed why he is arguably the best big man in our league, if not the best player in the league."
"How many times did they throw over the top?" the OSU coach said. "We don't have that length. We're coming in with Cam (McGriff) at 6-7, 6-8, and Johnathan Motley's got a 7-5, 7-6 wingspan. . . . They're so big at every position."
But, the Cowboys closed the gap with a 10-2 run and trailed by just four, 34-30, at the break. Carroll had 13 of his team-high 20 points in the first half, hitting four free throws and a pair of layups to spark the run that got them back in the game.
OSU tied it up with four quick points at the start of the second half, but Motley gave the Bears the lead back for good with a dunk off a high-post assist from Maston.
"We were trying to pound it down low as much as we could, because we knew they like to play one-on-one defense," Motley said. "We just tried to take advantage of what they were giving us. They like to over-help, so we were getting a lot of kick-out 3's and open 3's. I think we did a good job of executing the game plan."
Motley started a 7-0 run with a three-point play, then fed Maston for a layup, followed by a Lindsey layup off an assist from Lecomte that pushed the lead back to 47-38.
Sophomore guard King McClure, making just his second career start in place of suspended junior Al Freeman, buried a pair of 3-pointers as the Bears started to pull away. But if the game showed us anything, it's that the Cowboys aren't going to go away quietly.
"I loved our fight, I loved our competitiveness," Underwood said. "We didn't make the one to win the game, but we made a ton of winning plays. I'm really proud of that, because a month ago we couldn't have done that. . . . We gave ourselves a chance, we never rolled over, and there was tremendous fight in this team."
After giving up 19 offensive boards and getting outrebounded, 35-30, in last month's 61-57 win in Waco, the Bears dominated the boards this time, 36-25. OSU's inside trio of Mitchell Solomon, Leyton Hammonds and Carroll combined for just six rebounds.
Lecomte added 15 points and four assists, while Lindsey and McClure had 10 apiece for Baylor. Evans had 16 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals for OSU, which has now lost the last four against Baylor.
Baylor returns home to host TCU (17-7, 6-5) at 1 p.m. Saturday. The Horned Frogs have won three in a row, beating Texas Tech, 62-61, Tuesday night at home on Alex Robinson's free throw with 1.4 seconds left.