By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
Clinging to a 37-36 lead at halftime, news broke that top-ranked Villanova had lost to Butler and all Baylor needed to do was hold serve at home and they would claim the top spot in the country.
However, nothing came easy for Baylor as the Cyclones gave the Bears all they could handle Tuesday night at the Ferrell Center.
With the score tied at 63, junior guard Manu Lecomte hit a contested fadeaway jump shot and Cyclones’ senior guard Monte Morris’ shot fell off the side of the rim as time expired, preserving a thrilling 65-63 victory.
“It was a tough shot. They played good defense,” Lecomte said. “During the whole game, I couldn’t make shots but my teammates kept believing in me. Coach Drew kept me in the game and [said] you just have to keep shooting.”
After trailing for most of the second half, Baylor closed the game on a 10-2 run.
The Cyclones presented issues that Baylor had yet to see thus far. Iowa State was able to spread the floor and knock down its three point attempts. The Cyclones connected on 10 of 22 from beyond the arc. Once the Baylor zone began to help out on shooters, the Cyclones used their athleticism to find creases and get to the basket.
The Cyclones forced Baylor into 13 turnovers and used those turnovers to help offset Baylor’s rebounding edge, which was 47-28 in favor of the Bears.
“They did a great job. They beat us in transition, they turned us over,” said Head coach Scott Drew. “We had some good looks that we didn’t make. We didn’t rebound as well in the second half. But I really credit our guys because when you don’t shoot well and the other team does, they found a way to win.”
Senior guard Nazareth Mitrou-Long led the way for Iowa State with 17 points. Morris chipped in with 12 and senior guard Deonte Burton added 11, despite sitting all but three minutes in the first half due to foul trouble.
Ultimately, Baylor dug deep and found a little bit more of the magic they summoned down in the Bahamas when they knocked off Michigan State and Louisville.
Baylor was once again utilized its size advantage in the post with junior forwards Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. and Jonathan Motley. The two big men contributed 28 points and 20 rebounds, led by Lual-Acuil Jr.’s 15 points, despite limited minutes due to foul trouble. Motley was six for nine from the field, but Iowa State, through a combination of different matchups made him work all game long for his shot opportunities.
With Lecomte struggling offensively, Baylor got a huge boost off the bench from sophomore guard Jake Lindsey, who scored a season-high 10 points, including eight in the second half and hit two of three from beyond the arc.
“We kept fighting until the end. The team had a lot of energy on the bench,” Lecomte said. “The people coming off the bench were playing great like Jake [Lindsey], so we just kept fighting. I thought those guys did a great job.”
With the loss, Iowa State drops to 9-4, 1-1 in Big 12 play. The two point loss adds to the struggles for the Cyclones in finishing games. With losses to Gonzaga University, who remains undefeated and ranked fifth in the country by two, Cincinnati by one in overtime, and now Baylor, Iowa State has lost three games by a combined total of five points.
“Our guys did everything we asked them tonight to put ourselves in position to win and we just didn’t finish the game,”Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said.
The Cyclones look to get back on track when they host Texas on Saturday.
As for Baylor, it remains adamant that it will not be thinking about what could potentially be at stake with a win on Saturday, but instead are focused squarely on Oklahoma State.
“We don’t really worry about the rankings. We just come out and handle our business everyday,” Motley said. “Saturday we play Oklahoma State and that’s what we’re focused on now. We’re going to do everything we can to get that W.”
The Bears and the Cowboys will tipoff at 6 p.m. at the Ferrell Center. The game will be aired on ESPNEWS.