By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
TULSA, Okla. - Baylor likes to "share the sugar."
The third-seeded Bears (26-7) got sweet bench production with a combined 40 points from Al Freeman and Terry Mason to knock off 14th-seeded New Mexico State, 91-73, Friday at the BOK Center and end a two-year losing streak in the NCAA Tournament.
"No one wants to leave the tournament early," said 6-10 junior forward Johnathan Motley, who had 16 points and 10 rebounds for his Big 12-leading 14th double-double of the season.
"Our ultimate goal was to come and just win it, so we want to take every game for what it is and make sure we play desperate, play hard the whole time. Because after this, you lose, you go home. We knew one team was going home today, and we made sure it wasn't us."
After first-round upset losses to Yale and Georgia State the last two seasons, Baylor coach Scott Drew said they didn't really discuss those early exits going into Friday's game.
"You can look at it as two Elite Eights and a Sweet 16, or you can look at it as two first-round losses," Drew said. "If you're in the tournament enough, you're going to have both. . . . Hopefully we can keep playing good basketball and have guys step up, because this is the best time of the year. This is why you spend all those hours in the gym in the summertime and in the preseason is for March."
Motley had just four first-half points and went to the bench with 9:38 left when he picked up his second foul on an illegal screen. And the Bears got just 13 points combined from their five starters in the first 20 minutes.
That's where Freeman and Maston picked up the slack, combining to hit 11-of-16 shots from the floor and score 25 of the team's 38 first-half points.
"That's the great thing of being able to have multiple guys who can come in and there's no dropoff and a lot of times there's a lift," Drew said. "The great thing is it makes it harder for the other team to prepare against everybody. And when someone on our team has an off night, there's somebody there to pick them up."
While Freeman buried three first-half 3-pointers and finished with 21 points, one shy of his career-high, Maston got comfortable in the 18-foot range and scored 12 of his 19 points in the first half.
"Like Coach Drew says, `Share the sugar,''' said Maston, who had scored two points combined in the team's last six games. "If somebody is doing good, we just feed off what they're doing and it carries over."
Junior center Jo Lual-Acuil, who had 16 points, five rebounds and three blocks, said, "We all know what Al can do . . . and TJ can make those shots in his sleep."
"I was surprised when they gave him those shots," Lual-Acuil said. "And he's a dominant presence on the defensive end as well."
After missing six of their first seven from 3-point range, the Aggies (28-6) drained five of their last seven from outside the arc to end the first half. They took a 40-38 lead into the break when Braxton Huggins hit a contested trey over Lual-Acuil and Ish Wainright.
Baylor's lone senior, and the first player in program history to play in four NCAA Tournaments, Wainright said, "It was fun going up and down until they started hitting back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back 3s." "That gave them confidence. If one person hits on that team, everybody starts hitting them. That's the way it goes, if one person starts feeling it, the whole team starts feeling it."
After hitting 6-of-14 from 3-point range in the first half, though, New Mexico State was just 2-of-8 from long distance in the second half and was outscored, 53-33.
"I thought our offense was good both halves," Drew said. "The big difference the second half was we held them to 36 percent and 2-for-8 from 3. We really defended better. And then we only had five turnovers, which we were able to keep them out of transition more because of that. They're a very good team, very explosive."
With the Aggies scoring just five points in the first 6 ½ minutes of the second half, the Bears went on a 7-0 run to take the lead for good. Motley drained a 3-pointer off an assist from Manu Lecomte, then Freeman hit four straight free throws.
Ian Baker, who shared team-high scoring honors with Huggins at 19 points apiece, ended the run with one of two free throws. But then Maston answered that with a three-point play that put Baylor up, 54-45.
"Baylor just came out and locked it up a little bit," first-year NMSU head coach Paul Weir said. "You got to give them credit. They did a really good job, and unfortunately we weren't getting stops at the other end. They scored 53 points in the second half. We just had to get more stops . . . particularly at the beginning of the second half. I think they had 22 points in the first (eight minutes)."
Jake Lindsey fed Motley for a dunk that pushed the lead to 60-47 eight minutes into the second half. Baylor went up by as many as 20 before the Aggies made a late run to get within 11 on a pair of Baker free throws.
If there was any hint of panic or déjà vu, the Bears didn't show it down the stretch. Wainright ended the Aggies' run with a layup, followed by a three-point play by Lual-Acuil, with former walk-on forward Jonathan Davis providing the perfect exclamation point with a bank shot in the final seconds.
"It's definitely a sense of relief," Wainright said. "We were hearing all this talk about Baylor's going to do this, Baylor's going to do that. Now, it's on to the next. It's a nice sense of relief."
Baylor advances to face No. 11 seed USC (26-9). The Trojans upset No. 6 seed SMU, 66-65, Friday afternoon. Tipoff times for Sunday's second-round games are expected to be announced later Friday.