By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Playing in their first true road game of the season, there were two things the 16th-ranked Baylor Bears couldn't do in Tuesday's marquee matchup at No. 21 Xavier - fall behind early and get hurt.
They did both.
The Bears (5-1) rallied from an early 13-point deficit to pull back within one. But, senior forward Terry Maston's injury to his right (shooting) hand was too much to overcome as Baylor fell to the Musketeers, 76-63, before an overflow crowd of 10,503 at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
"We were hoping to ride him the second half," coach Scott Drew said of the 6-foot-8 Maston, who scored all 15 of his points in the first half, hitting 7-of-9 from the floor. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to. It's one thing to lose a game, you don't want to lose players. You especially don't want to lose them when you've got eight scholarship players."
With both Maston and 6-9 freshman forward Tristan Clark going down on the same play, the Bears played the last 12 minutes with just six players.
"We don't have a deep bench to begin with, so we can't have that happen," Drew said. "Obviously, with TJ, we'll have to find out if he broke his hand or not."
Baylor took its one and only lead, at 2-0, on a dunk by Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. But, the Musketeers (6-1) hit five of their first eight 3-pointers and went up 21-8 on a trey by Kaiser Gates, who finished with a career-high 19 points.
"They did a great job jumping on us early," Drew said. "The one thing we didn't want to do is give up transition buckets, and that's what we did. When you get transition buckets up, the crowd gets going, and from there things start to snowball."
The Bears shot their way back in it, with Maston, King McClure and Manu Lecomte hitting 3-pointers in a 13-4 run that trimmed the deficit to 30-29 with 4:41 left in the first half. It looked like it was going to be a two-point game at the break when Maston scored an inside bucket with 13 seconds on the clock, but J.P. Macura banked in a long-distance 3-pointer, extending the lead to 39-34.
"I'm proud that we fought to get back in it, and I thought we really closed the half well," Drew said. "That banked-in 3 was a big momentum play."
Another came on a missed dunk by redshirt freshman forward Mark Vital that would have made it a four-point game at the 4:19 mark.
"Those two plays were big swings in the game," Drew said. "I like our chances, Mark making a dunk and J.P. not banking in a 3 from 28 (feet)."
Early in the second half, Baylor had a chance to tie or take the lead when Lecomte was called for traveling. Instead, Xavier reeled off 12 unanswered points as the Bears missed their next five shots and turned it over four times in a 5 ½-minute scoring drought.
Vital, who scored eight of his career-high 11 points in the second half, ended the Musketeers' run with a layup and a pair of free throws as Baylor inched its way back in the game again.
"I saw TJ go down and was like, `All right, it's time for me to step up. No time to be lazy, no time to do this. Just play hard, play like you play and let the defense and offense come to you,''' said Vital, who added a career-high seven rebounds. "I just played as hard as I could and continued to fight."
Twice, Vital beat everyone down the floor, slamming one home on a bounce pass from McClure and then scoring on a layup off a nice pass from Jake Lindsey.
"I always try to outrun my opponent and continue to keep running and get an easy bucket, because I know my teammates are going to give it to me," Vital said.
The Bears got within six twice before Xavier sealed it with another Gates 3-pointer and six straight free throws. The Musketeers hit 17-of-20 free throws in the second half and 18-of-23 for the game, outscoring Baylor by eight from the charity stripe.
Macura matched Gates with 19 points to share game-high scoring honors, while preseason All-American Trevon Bluiett was held well below his scoring average with 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting.
Lecomte added 11 points and McClure 10 for the Bears, who were dominated on the boards, 38-28.
"Playing games like this early in the year on the road really allows you when you get into conference to at least know what it's like and know how tough it is and how prepared you have to be mentally and physically," Drew said. "That's the good thing about playing a great program and team like Xavier is it helps you for later down the road, and it's a lost that doesn't hurt you."
Baylor returns home to host No. 8 Wichita State (5-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday as part of the "Basketball Capital of Texas Weekend." The No. 9 Lady Bears (5-1) host No. 14/16 Stanford (4-3) at 1 p.m. Sunday.