By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Three days after letting a six-point lead slip away in a 67-65 loss to Kansas, ninth-ranked Baylor's end-of-the-game execution was still a little shaky.
But, the Bears (23-5, 10-5) did just enough, hitting five free throws in the last minute to hold off the Oklahoma Sooners, 60-54, Tuesday night to snap a two-game losing streak and move back into a tie for second in the Big 12 standings with West Virginia and Iowa State.
"If you like defense, you like tonight's game, because both teams defended really well. Or, the offenses were pretty bad. So, let's go with the positive - great defense tonight," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "I know I'm pleased to hold them to 32 percent. You don't hold many Big 12 teams to 32 percent (shooting) and 54 points."
The Bears' back-line defense of 7-foot center Jo Lual-Acuil and 6-10 forward Johnathan Motley was particularly imposing, combining for nine blocks and holding Oklahoma's starting inside duo of Kristian Doolittle and Khadeem Lattin to 11 points on 3-for-12 shooting.
"It was very difficult," said 6-5 freshman guard Kameron McGusty, who had a team-high 13 points for the Sooners. "You've got two guys like that, that are long, protecting the basket. It's very hard. We tried to kick and look for open shots."
Lual-Acuil, who sat out the last two practices with a calf injury, flirted with a triple-double. He finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots in 28 minutes.
"I told Jo he needs to get injured all the time," Drew said.
Junior point guard Manu Lecomte and senior forward Ishmail Wainright also missed the last two days of workouts with ankle injuries, but both fought through it to help the Bears pull out a much-needed win.
Wainright played his usual stat-stuffing role with four points, nine rebounds, four assists, one block and a steal, while Lecomte drained a pair of late 3-pointers and hit two clutch free throws to create a little cushion late.
"That was huge," Drew said of the Lecomte's back-to-back treys that turned an extremely two-point lead into an eight-point cushion, 55-47, with 6:04 to play. "We'd like to run some stuff with him, but he couldn't get separation, couldn't really move like he's capable of moving. And that's a real compliment to his toughness. Because if you just came to the game, you wouldn't have known that he was injured. He's getting tougher, getting stronger and being a good leader out there."
Motley, who posted his 11th double-double of the season and 16th of his career (21 points, 16 rebounds), scored nine of the team's first 11 points and helped the Bears jump out to a 22-7 lead in the first nine minutes.
At that point, it looked a lot like Baylor's trip to Norman back on Dec. 30, when the Bears blew out the Sooners, 76-50.
But, this was different. This isn't the same OU team Baylor blasted nearly two months ago.
"They're used to playing without (point guard Jordan Woodard)," Drew said. "And you can see it, they're a lot more confident out there. . . . Their transition defense has gotten a lot better. We were able to get some run-outs and easies, and we didn't get near as many tonight. Overall, you can just tell they're a lot more confident group."
Baylor led by 10 at the break and stretched it to 15 in the first minute and half of the second half, going up 41-26 on a Motley 3-pointer.
OU answered with back-to-back 3-pointers by McGusty and Darrion Strong-Moore to pull back within single digits and eventually got it all the way back to 49-47 when 6-10 sophomore center Jamnui McNeace backed his way inside and shot a short hook over Lual-Acuil.
When Baylor called a 30-second timeout to calm things down, assistant coach Jerome Tang was yelling at Lual-Acuil, trying to get him motivated for the closing stretch.
"Coach Tang is a super passionate guy, and he doesn't like when people score. I don't like it when people score, either," Lual-Acuil said. "But, I knew I wasn't going to let him score the next player. Whatever we need to do to win."
Lecomte's 3-pointers gave the Bears a little breathing room, but it was still a struggle in the closing minutes as the Bears missed their last four shots from the floor and turned it over twice.
Lual-Acuil blocked a breakaway layup by Strong-Moore that would have made it a one-possession game, and then Lecomte, Motley and Al Freeman knocked down the clutch free throws to ice it.
After missing the last four games, Freeman scored six points and helped the Bears play lock-down perimeter defense.
"I thought Al was really good defensively," Drew said. "He played within himself, was a good teammate, and he's done a great job since he's been back, so he deserved the opportunity."
Baylor will play two of its last three on the road, facing Iowa State (18-9, 10-5) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Ames.