By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
Senior guard Manu Lecomte scored 17 points and the Bears’ defense rose to the occasion holding the Longhorns to just 20 second half points as Baylor knocked off Texas 69-60 Saturday to avoid an 0-3 start in Big 12 play.
Baylor head coach Scott Drew said the defensive adjustments and the back and forth momentum swings is the nature of Big 12 basketball.
“Another Big 12 game, hard fought. As far as the first half, we gave them too many points in transition, didn’t do a good job in finding Jase [Febres], who had 18 points in the first half,” Drew said. “Second, we did a better job not turning the ball over and getting transition points up. To hold them to 20 points in the second, that’s a tremendous defensive effort. Typical Big 12 game.”
The Bears got a strong, balanced effort from the frontcourt, led by senior forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. Lual-Acuil scored 17 points, including 10 in the second half, grabbed six rebounds, dished out five assists and came up with four blocks to neutralize penetration from the Texas guards.
Lual-Acuil had help in the paint from both freshman forward Tristan Clark and redshirt freshman forward Mark Vital off the bench. Clark finished with eight points, but was perfect from the floor and the free throw line while contributing to the Baylor block party with a pair of swats.
Vital scored 10 points, relying on his aggressive offensive mindset in getting to the free throw line where he converted four of his eight attempts. Vital also grabbed seven rebounds and had two blocks, but perhaps none bigger than the one he had on Coleman’s drive in the final minute and a half. Nursing a 67-60 lead, Coleman turned the corner, driving to his left and after initially being beaten, Vital recovered to send the shot attempt into the Texas bench, sending the Ferrell Center crowd to their feet.
It was plays like Vital’s block for the Baylor defense that sparked the Bears comeback in the second half.
Texas led for most of the first half, primarily thanks to the strong play by of freshman guard Jase Febres, who finished seven of nine from the field and four of five from downtown for 18 points. The Longhorns connected on six of 11 from beyond the arc and shot 42 percent as a team in having a 40-38 halftime lead.
But in the second half, the Baylor defense settled in, limiting the Longhorns to 25 percent shooting from the floor, while hitting just two of 13 from beyond three-point range.
Vital said that effort made all the difference for the Bear’s defense in the second half.
“We just came and played harder,” Vital said. “We talked at halftime that we needed to step it up and need to have the need to win. Coach Drew had a positive talk and he really meant it. We can see it in his face so it was very intense.”
Febres was also limited to just two field goal attempts, both which he missed.
With the score tied at 44 early in the second half, it was Lecomte’s three-pointer that put the Bears up for good. Baylor would extend its lead to nine at 55-46 before Texas would give one final push.
A jumper from freshman forward Mohamed Mamba would cut the Baylor lead to two at 59-57 and get Texas as close as it could the rest of the game. Mamba’s three a minute and a half later would cut the deficit to 63-60 with five minutes left.
Over the final five minutes, the Baylor defense would not allow another point, as Texas missed its final nine field goal attempts and turned the ball over three times.
Texas head coach Shaka Smart said the Longhorns just didn’t execute down the stretch after cutting the lead to three points.
“Well, we were able to cut their lead down to three, and I felt like our guys had a good level of momentum in terms of our competitive spirit and the way we were communicating and attacking, but then we got tentative. We passed up a couple shots that were really good looks that we need to take, and then we didn’t execute,” Smart said.
Mamba finished with 15 points and nine rebounds as Texas falls to 10-5, 1-2 in Big 12 play.
Baylor improves to 11-4, 1-2 in conference play. The Bears now get set for a two game road trip over the next week beginning with a trip to Morgantown, W.Va to face the No. 6 Mountaineers at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The game will air on ESPN2.