By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
The dog days of January claimed three of the top five teams in the country in Villanova, Kansas and Kentucky on Tuesday. Baylor was determined not to be its next victim, but Texas Tech made it anything but easy for the Bears.
Senior guard Ishmail Wainwright blocked Red Raiders junior guard Keenan Evans’ potential game-winning three-point shot, and Baylor survived Texas Tech’s upset bid 65-61 on Wednesday night. Junior forward Jonathan Motley scored 25 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Bears.
Following the blocked shot, play stopped and the referees conferred at the scorers’ table. Baylor was awarded possession due to an inadvertent whistle, and junior guard Al Freeman’s two free throws sealed the victory for the Bears.
Baylor head coach Scott Drew said he didn’t know what to expect after the officials reviewed Wainwright’s block.
“I honestly didn’t know what they were going to call,” Drew said. “I didn’t know whether they were going to let them shoot free throws or us shoot free throws, if it was an inadvertent whistle and who was going to get it. Us coaches know the rule book but not those rules like that. We’re just blessed we got the ball.”
Baylor opened the game on a 12-2 run, beating the Texas Tech double teams and connecting on two of its first three attempts from beyond the arc. The offensive success would dwindle for the majority of the first half as Texas Tech began to climb back in the game.
Despite trailing by 10 or more points several times in the first half, the Red Raiders refused to go quietly into the night. They used two mini 6-0 runs to chip away at Baylor’s once comfortable lead.
Texas Tech’s defense clamped down on Baylor, holding it without a field goal for more than 10 minutes. Baylor’s only points came from the free throw line where they connected on 16 of 18 in the first half.
Baylor shot a season-high 93 percent from the free throw line, connecting on 26 of 28 attempts. Motley hit 15 of his 16 attempts.
Motley said the coaching staff wanted him to stay aggressive and make Texas Tech’s post players have to defend him.
“Coaches told me, ‘Don’t settle for the jump shot’,” Motley said. “I decided I was just going to attack the rim as hard as I could every time. I got a lot of fouls today and hit a lot of free throws.”
Texas Tech seemed determined to try to make Baylor beat it from the outside. Every time that either Motley or junior forward Jo Lual Acuil Jr. touched the ball on the post, one of the wing defenders came down to double team, forcing the ball out quickly and making Baylor’s big men make quick decisions. The Red Raiders were able to limit scoring opportunities for junior guard Manu Lecomte and Lual-Acuil Jr., holding them to a combined five of 15 from the field and 17 points.
Ultimately, Motley and the Bears were able to hold off Texas Tech. The junior from Houston relied on quick moves to the basket and quick baseline jumpers to score before the double team could arrive.
Drew said Motley is playing at a high level and is doing all the big things well.
“He’s doing a good job being efficient and getting to the free throw line for scoring,” Drew said. “He’s doing a good job rebounding too.”
Junior forward Nuni Omot delivered a much-needed spark off the bench for the Bears. He gave them valuable minutes, contributing seven points while Motley and Lual-Acuil Jr. got rest on the bench.
When they needed it most, Baylor’s defense dug in and took Texas Tech out its offensive rhythm. The Bears held Red Raiders’ leading scorer, junior guard Keenan Evans, to just 10 points on four of 14 shooting.
The Red Raiders’ offense also struggled due to foul trouble as four of them were forced to play with four fouls. Senior forward Aaron Ross finished with 14 points to lead Texas Tech. Junior guard Justin Gray chipped in with 12 points.
Texas Tech fell to 14-6 and 3-5 in the Big 12. The Red Raiders will host LSU at 1 p.m. Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard had nothing but praise for Baylor. He also said he believes that his team is continuing to move in the right direction.
“Congrats to Baylor. They came out ready to play,” Beard said. “I like Coach Drew. I’ve got a lot of respect for Baylor and what they do. We took a step forward tonight, but life in the Big 12 is tough, and you play well but you don’t always get the result that you want.”
Baylor improved to 19-1, 7-1 and moved into a tie for first in the conference with Kansas. The Bears will take on Ole Miss at 5 p.m. Saturday. The game will air on ESPN2.