Baylor and Xavier met for the third time in program history, and for the first time since the Bears defeated the Musketeers in the 2012 Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament. Baylor also won the only other matchup between the two schools.
After a slow start, another big second half from the Bears, including a big game from junior guard Manu Lecomte, helped Baylor knock off Xavier, 76-61.
“The crowd was tremendous today. They really gave us a boost in the second half,” said head coach Scott Drew. “It really helped with our defense. Xavier is a really tough team to prepare for. They’ve got so many weapons and different people that can hurt you. I’m really proud of our team’s effort.”
Both teams entered the contest ranked in the top ten, marking the fourth-ranked team Baylor has played this season. The atmosphere fully reflected the marquee matchup, drawing in the largest crowd thus far at the Ferrell Center, including Hollywood comedic actor Bill Murray and inspiring, “We want Kansas” chants from the student section.
Junior forward Jonathan Motley was aggressive early on and established himself on the offensive end by scoring eight of Baylor’s first ten points. Motley finished with 17 points and eight rebounds.
In the first half, It was the Musketeers who used a 13-4 run, sparked by two three pointers by junior guard Trevon Bluiett to gain control of the game early in the first half. Xavier was able to hold off several runs by the Bears and go into the half leading 34-31. Bluiett finished with 23 points, including 6 for 10 from three-point range before fouling out in the final seconds. Sophomore guard Edmund Sumner chipped in with 19 points for the Musketeers.
Baylor is no stranger to trailing at halftime, having faced deficits against all three of its opponents in the Bahamas, so the Bears were confident coming out after the intermission, quickly regaining the lead on a three pointer by Lecomte.
Xavier refused to go away, taking the lead right back from the Bears in part to Bluiett’s fifth three pointer of the game. This success was short lived by the Musketeers, as Baylor began to seize control of the game for good when Bluiett hit the bench with this third personal foul. Baylor’s defense turned it up a notch and got stronger, forcing turnovers that led to transition baskets for the Bears. Baylor forced Xavier into 17 turnovers and converted them into 17 points. The Bears held Xavier to just 31% shooting from the field.
“We give Baylor credit, they’re awfully good. It’s nothing we didn’t know coming in and they’ve been a second half team, for what seems like all year so far, and today was no different,” said Xavier head coach Christ Mack. “We missed too many free throws. Trevon Bluiett going out really hurt. We turned the ball over, and you can’t turn the ball over on the road and expect good things to happen. Baylor had a lot to do with that.”
The Bears’ defense also held Xavier’s second leading scorer, junior guard J.P. Macura, who averages just under 17 points per game, to just seven points on two for 16 shooting.
The key for Baylor in the second half was Lecomte as he scored 15 of his 24 points in the half, including four key three pointers to help sustain Baylor’s lead. When he was not scoring the ball, he orchestrated the offense and got his teammates easy looks at the basket. Lecomte finished with five assists to go along with his game-high 24 points.
“We just had to get rhythm. We struggled a little bit in the beginning,” Lecomte said. “We just kept shooting and finding each other. That’s what we’re all about. We’re all in.”
After a slow start offensively, junior forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. finished with 12 points to help out Lecomte and Motley.
Xavier held a significant advantage on the glass, out-rebounding Baylor 47-35, including 18-8 on offensive rebounds. But the Musketeers could not convert those second chance opportunities into points, only finishing with 13 second chance points.
Even though the Bears were at a significant disadvantage on the offensive glass, the Bears completely dominated the paint, outscoring the Musketeers 38-18. The Bears eventually wore down Xavier inside and took advantage of foul trouble at the free throw line.
With the win, Baylor continues to build an impressive resume and moves to 8-0 on the season. Xavier drops to 7-1 on the season and will travel to take on Colorado on Wednesday. Baylor is off until they welcome Texas Southern at 6 p.m. on Dec. 14 at the Ferrell Center. The game will be aired on ESPNU.