By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Playing with the same mentality as the football team did in its bowl victory over North Carolina, the 25th-ranked Baylor men proved it can get it done without one of its biggest stars.
With 6-8 senior forward Rico Gathers out for the second time in three games with flu-like symptoms, the Bears leaned on their depth and balanced scoring to pull out a 100-91 victory over 13th-ranked Iowa State Tuesday night to complete the season sweep of the Cyclones.
"Coach is a lot happier tonight," said Baylor coach Scott Drew, whose team snapped a three-game losing streak in home conference games, improving to 19-7 overall and tied for fourth in the Big 12 at 8-5. "I'm really proud of the team effort, great team win. . . . I'm just really proud of the guys stepping up. We know important this game was tonight. (We had) great leadership, and they did a great job keeping everyone focused."
Even without their most dominant inside player, the Bears found a way to beat Iowa State (18-8, 7-6) on the boards, 34-30, had a 46-38 edge in points in the paint and Baylor's bench outscored the Cyclone reserves, 21-0.
Sophomore forward Johnathan Motley, starting in place of Gathers, was 10-of-17 from the floor and finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks after getting 27 points and 13 boards in the 94-89 win at Iowa State.
"We're going to make sure someone has an Iowa State jersey every time we play from here on out," Drew said.
"That's huge," Motley said of the rebounding edge. "It's just a testament to our team and how hard we worked and how much the coaches stressed rebounding, even without Rico. That's one of our main keys to the game is beating the other team on the offensive and defensive rebounds."
Drew also credited senior point guard Lester Medford and the rest of the team "for getting (Motley) the ball in spots where he could be successful."
"That's a lot of the 24 assists, so credit (Taurean Prince) and the rest of the guys for making the effort to get him the ball when he was open."
Motley certainly didn't do it by himself. Five other players scored in double figures, including sophomore forward Terry Maston with 15 points off the bench, Prince, Medford and Al Freeman with 14 apiece and junior forward Ishmail Wainright with 10 points, six assists and no turnovers.
"I talked to (Maston) and Motley before the game started and told them we needed them, that this is their game," said Prince, who finished one board shy of a double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds. "TJ came off the bench really hot with that sweet, smooth hook like he always does. And Motley was aggressive like he was last year. They feel like they have to take a back seat sometimes when they really don't. They're both great players. So, if we get them to play like that even when Rico is here, we can be a force."
Both teams had chances in the final minute of regulation. After Matt Thomas stole the ball from Freeman, Iowa State's Deonte Burton missed a driving shot and then turned it right back over to the Bears with a pass that Medford picked off.
Working the clock down, Motley had a dunk attempt that was stuffed by Burton. With Iowa State coach Steve Prohm leaving a time out in his pocket, point guard Monte Morris missed a 3-pointer and then made a follow shot that came off his hand just a fraction after the buzzer.
"We played hard, put ourselves in position to win on the road," Prohm said. "The frustrating thing is you look at our road losses in this league, which is a terrific league - we lost three games in overtime and lost one (at Oklahoma) when we had the ball down two and missed a shot. That part is frustrating."
Baylor took charge in overtime and never trailed, Medford draining a 3-pointer that put the Bears on top, 87-84, at the 3:19 mark. Motley partially blocked a Burton 3-pointer on one end and took a feed from Prince for a slam dunk that pushed it to 89-84.
The Cyclones pulled back within two on a 3-pointer by Abdel Nader, who scored a team-high 26. But Wainright answered with a trey of his own after an offensive board, all but icing the game with 1:06 left.
In the closing minute, the Bears clinched it with six straight free throws by Freeman, Prince and Medford to win their first Big 12 home game in nearly a month.
"It all starts with taking care of the basketball," Drew said of the Bears' 24 assists and only eight turnovers. "Our team wants to be unselfish, wants to pass; we just can't pass it to the other team. The last couple games at home, the 16 turnovers really hurt us. We gave up way too many points off turnovers. We're an efficient offense, one of the best in the country. And it hurts when we don't get opportunities to get first looks and second looks."
The Bears trailed by as many as five in the first half and were down 35-31 with about 2 ½ minutes to go. But they closed with 10 unanswered points, capped by a Medford 3-pointer to take a 41-35 lead at the break.
Georges Niang had 24, Morris 20 and Burton 14 for the Cyclones, who fell to 3-4 in Big 12 road games.
Baylor will play three of its next four on the road, facing 24th-ranked Texas (17-9, 8-5) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Austin in a nationally televised ESPN game.