By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Facing 10th-ranked West Virginia and the Mountaineers' stifling press on a short turnaround is not exactly the ideal situation. Especially when you turned it over 29 times in a 21-point loss in the first meeting.
Add to that, the 11th-ranked Baylor Bears were without starting point Manu Lecomte, who was out with a sprained ankle that he reinjured in Saturday's 72-69 loss at Iowa State.
Trailing by eight with under nine minutes to play, the Bears reeled off nine unanswered points and closed the game on a 30-13 run to pull out a huge 71-62 victory before a Ferrell Center crowd of 8,203 in their final home game of the year.
"When you write up Senior Night, this is what it's supposed to be," said Baylor coach Scott Drew, who honored his only senior, 6-5 forward Ishmail Wainright, after the game. "Two top-11 teams playing, we're a man down. We have 29 turnovers with a point guard; don't have the same starting point guard tonight, and we find a way to win. And that's a tribute to the teammates' desire to win for Ish."
Wainright, playing his final game at the Ferrell Center, said it "was extremely special" to finish it out this way.
"My last one, a great ride four years in the making," said Wainright, who had seven points, eight rebounds, two assists and a pair of steals. "They said it was for me, and that's the only thing I can really say about that one - a great team."
After a quiet first half when he had just four points and four rebounds and was 1-of-5 from the floor, junior forward Johnathan Motley had a monster second half. He had 19 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, going 5-for-7 from the floor and 9-of-9 from the line.
"Just being aggressive," Motley said "attacking more and making quicker moves. The coaches told me I had to make those quicker moves. And once I got to the free throw line, it all started coming together. Once I hit those first two free throws, after that I got in the flow and started dunking and getting hyped."
Motley also started the closing run, getting a dunk and follow free throw after getting fouled by Brandon Watkins, cutting the deficit to 49-44.
The key for the Bears' strong finish was going right at nine minutes without turning the ball over. Baylor had 18 turnovers, but 15 of those came in the last minute when the lead had ballooned to double digits.
"If you can get stops, and then get in transition, that's so critical," Drew said. "When they score, they set up the press. And by the time you get it across half court, you're ready for a water break."
Jo Lual-Acuil, who had his third double-double of the year with 11 points and 10 boards, scored off an offensive rebound. Motley hit a jumper and then made two free throws after another offensive rebound to give the Bears the lead, 50-49.
Baylor finished with a 43-23 edge in the rebounding battle, scoring 12 second-chance points off 14 offensive boards.
"I thought defensively we got real tentative," said WVU coach Bob Huggins, whose team fell to 23-7 and tied with the Bears for third in the Big 12 standings at 11-6. "And really, they just beat us to death on the glass. We're usually a pretty good rebounding team, and they whipped us pretty good on the glass."
Jevon Carter, who had 18 points and nine rebounds, gave the Mountaineers the lead back with a jumper. But, Lual-Acuil gave Baylor the lead for good with a bucket off a feed from redshirt freshman guard Wendell Mitchell.
Al Freeman, who was suspended for three games earlier this month, scored 12 points and hit a pair of clutch 3-pointers in a stretch of a minute and half that saw the Bears push the lead out to 62-53.
"Every shot is huge, because there are teams when you have an eight-point lead and it feels like a 20-point lead," Drew said. "And then there's teams where you have an eight-point lead and it's like a one-point lead. West Virginia is one of those one-point leads, because they can get three turnovers and three 3's, or three buckets, in a matter of 10 seconds."
Sophomore guard Jake Lindsey, who filled in for Lecomte at the point, hit a pair of free throws and then answered a Carter 3-pointer with a three-point play that kept the Bears comfortably ahead for the final stretch.
After losing five of their first eight games in February, this win gives the Bears some momentum going into March. They close out the regular season with a 3 p.m. game Saturday at Texas (10-19, 4-12).
"For sure, especially playing a tough team like West Virginia," Motley said. "We beat them up on the boards, and that will get us ready for different teams in the NCAA Tournament. West Virginia has a unique style of play. It was a tough team to have on a quick turnaround. The last time, they spanked us (89-68), but we wanted to make sure we got this one."