Story by Nathan Keil | Sports Editor, Video by Elisabeth Tharp | Broadcast Reporter
The Baylor defense was suffocating when head coach Scott Drew needed it the most. The Bears came up with the three biggest stops of the season with the game on the line.
First, while trailing 57-56 lead, redshirt freshman forward Mark Vital came up with a block on the Texas Tech three-point attempt from the corner forcing a shot clock violation.
Following a Baylor turnover, the Bears then forced a tough, contested three from freshman guard Jarrett Culver that clanked the back iron. Baylor senior forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr secured the rebound.
After Lual-Acuil hit one of two free throws, Baylor contested a desperation three-point heave from 30-feet out by junior guard Brandone Francis, securing a 59-57 was in over No. 7 Texas Tech, extending Baylor’s winning streak to five straight games.
Drew credited the raucous Baylor crowd for the energy to push the Bears through down the stretch.
“The crowd was tremendous and really helped us through,” Drew said. “I thought the guards up top really did a great job and then the frontline cleaning up the stuff the last three minutes. But that’s why the crowd is so important. When you’re tired, they push you through to the finish line.”
Senior forward Terry Maston, who did not score when the Bears were run out of the gym by the Red Raiders on Dec. 30, was the difference on the offensive end tonight.
Maston followed up his career-high 26 points Monday against Texas with 24 points and five rebounds, including the go-ahead baby hook shot along the right baseline at the 1:26 mark.
“I had a really good first half and I got cold in the second half, but my teammates still tried to get me the ball,” Maston said. “They called a couple of plays for me and I ended up executing down the stretch.”
After leading for 17 of the 20 first half minutes and starting the second with a 35-31 lead, Baylor was forced to play catch-up most of the second half.
Culver knocked down a three-pointer and senior guard Justin Gray scored on the inside to tie the game up at 38 apiece.
The Red Raiders then went in front 44-41, holding Baylor scoreless for more than three minutes and forced the Bears into eight straight misses from the floor before senior guard Manu Lecomte connected on his third three of the game to tie at 44.
The next six minutes went back and forth, but Texas Tech built a four-point lead at 57-53 following a three from Culver. Maston, like he had all night had the answer for the Bears, came down the floor and scored at the rim through the contact and converted the free throw to cut the deficit to one at 57-56, picking up where he left off in the first half, where Baylor controlled the pace.
Lecomte got the Bears going early, converting a four-point play on the team’s second possession of the game. But from there, it was Maston, showing off his versatility, hitting 18-foot jumpers, driving past smaller defenders to the basket. He revealed his drop step and hook shots as well as knocking down his free throw opportunities. Maston finished with 13 points in the first half.
For Texas Tech, it was mostly freshman guard Zhaire Smith that kept the Red Raiders in the game. Smith constantly moved about the Baylor zone, finding the gaps between the defenders and making either the 12-foot jump shot or a drive toward the basket.
Smith kept Texas Tech in the game, despite a barrage of late fouls that gave Baylor five straight free throws in building its largest lead of the game at 35-28.
Following a Baylor turnover, Texas Tech senior guard Justin Gray hit a 25-foot three pointer at the buzzer to cut Baylor’s lead to 35-31.
The Baylor defense forced Texas Tech into 18 turnovers and limited the Red Raiders to 39 percent from the floor and just three of 14 from distance. The Bears also came up with six steals and six blocks as well and they seemed to come when Baylor needed them most.
Texas Tech managed to win the rebounding battle 38-34, but Baylor got the two rebounds it needed down the stretch.
Lecomte, finished with 10 points on just three of 14 from the floor. Lual-Acuil was held in check on the offensive end, finishing with seven points and eight rebounds.
For Texas Tech, Smith led the way with 15 points and Gray finished with 13.
The Red Raiders played the entire second half without its senior leader and conference player of the year candidate guard Keenan Evans. Evans, who averages 19 points per game, had four points on one of six shooting, before hobbling off the court late in the half with what his coach described as a toe injury.
“It’s next man up. Everybody has been preparing for this moment and these games,” Gray said. “Second half we played well enough to win, just didn’t pull it out in the end.”
Baylor (17-10, 7-7) continues to make its case for a potential NCAA tournament at large berth. The Bears will welcome No. 20 West Virginia to the Ferrell Center on Tuesday with a 6 p.m. tipoff time. The game will air on ESPN2.