By Cody Soto
No. 22 Baylor men’s basketball may have led for a little over 37 minutes on Wednesday night, but the Bears had to make every second count and held off the No. 11-ranked Iowa State Cyclones for a slim 74-73 win at the Ferrell Center.
Senior forward Royce O’Neale led the team with 15 points, six rebounds and three assists. Junior forward Rico Gathers had a double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, and freshman forward Johnathan Motley had 14 points. Senior guard Kenny Chery scored 13 points and added three assists in the win. The Bears finished the night with 44 rebounds and only nine turnovers against a tough Big 12 opponent.
“I am really pleased with how we handled the ball,” head coach Scott Drew said. “We really got some high percentage shots, especially in the first half. In the second half, we didn’t make as many three-pointers, but the offensive rebounding kept us in the game.”
Baylor kicked off the first half with two three-point baskets from the two seniors, Chery and O’Neale, and the Bears only allowed the Cyclones to score one free throw in route to a 16-1 lead early in the half. The Cyclones powered back and cut the lead 34-32, but the Bears fired back and went on a 12-2 run to close out the half and walk into the locker room with a 46-32 lead.
The Bears opened up the second half with a basket from O’Neale, and for the most of the second half, Baylor maintained a cushion until the last few minutes of the game. Iowa State’s Naz Long hit a three-pointer with 2:26 left in the game to tie it up at 66-66, and the rest of the possessions were crucial for the Bears. Junior guard Lester Medford nailed the Bears’ only three-pointer of the half to put the Bears in the lead 70-68 with 1:10 on the clock.
Things went back and forth on the court, and Chery made the game-winning basket with 4.7 seconds left on the clock to put the Bears in front by one.
“I was going to try and take it to the basket or get a foul or something, but just make a play or try to create one for somebody else,” Chery said. “That was the play Coach was trying to execute, and it worked out pretty well.”
The crowd rose to its feet as the final possession determined the Bears’ fate, and the defense put pressure on Iowa State’s offense to expire the clock. Baylor may have led by 17 points in the first half, but the one-point difference sealed the deal for the Bears.
“We were ready when they made that run, and we had to keep our composure and stay poised,” Chery said. “They really came back and even led by one, but we had to stay focused and keep our faith in God through it all.”
Head coach Scott Drew sported a snazzy cream-colored suit as the rest of the crowd participated in the team’s #AllWhiteEverything event. After a disappointing 56-55 loss at home to Kansas on Jan. 7, the crowd played a huge part in the closing stretch, Gathers said.
“I really appreciated our fans tonight,” he said. “They really represented tonight, and that’s what really got us motivated and kept us going down the stretch.”
Baylor gets back on the road to face Kansas State on Saturday in an effort to stretch its two-game conference winning streak. Game time is set for 2 p.m. and will be live on ESPNU.