Baylor rallies past Ole Miss

Baylor's Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., (0) takes an uncontested shot at the basket against Mississippi in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Oxford, Miss., Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. Photo credit: Associated Press

By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer

Junior guard Manu Lecomte scored 17 points, including five three-pointers, and Baylor rallied for a 78-75 victory over Ole Miss on Saturday night.

Baylor trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half at 33-18 and by seven at intermission. With the come-from-behind win, the No. 5 Bears have now won seven of eight games when trailing at the half.

Baylor head coach Scott Drew said that his team battled through a well-executed game plan go get the big road win.

“We didn’t execute as well as we’d liked, and I think Ole Miss deserves a lot of that credit for causing us to turn it over the way that we did,” Drew said. “I thought they had a great game plan and the crowd was tremendous. I’m really proud of us, keeping our poise in the second half and finding a way to get it done.”

Trailing 72-70 with two minutes to play, sophomore guard Jake Lindsey’s three-point field goal from the left corner gave the Bears the lead for good. Lecomte’s fifth three-point field goal of the game with 20 seconds left secured the win and ended Ole Miss’ upset bid.

Lecomte said it was his teammates who deserve the credit for putting him in the position to make plays and key shots.

“I think my teammates did a great job finding me,” Lecomte said. “Four wide open shots, and that’s what I do, I’m a shooter. I really appreciate my teammates finding me.”

Ole Miss controlled the game from the opening tip in building a double-digit lead on Baylor. The Rebels were able to connect on five of their 10 three-point attempts in the first half, and senior forward Sebastian Saiz gave the Bears fits in the paint. He scored 16 points in the first 20 minutes and was able to get junior forward Johnathan Motley in foul trouble early.

The Rebels also used a 1-3-1 zone to limit the opportunities for Baylor in the paint, which resulted in 11 first-half turnovers, something that plagued the Bears in their lone loss of the year against West Virginia on Jan. 10.

In the second half, Baylor looked like a different team. Motley and fellow junior forward Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. began to establish themselves on the offensive end in the paint. Both finished with 16 points and nine rebounds.

The defense also began to bear down and force the Rebels into late-shot, clock-contested jump shots. After only forcing one turnover in the first half, Baylor forced six in the second half and converted them into 11 points.

Motley said the shift in defensive strategy on Saiz in the second half was crucial for the Bears getting the win.

“We made sure we had two bodies on him at all times,” Motley said. “Make him shoot tough shots. We gave him too many open shots in the first half, but once we started making him take tough shots, it started looking better for us.”

The game began to shift when Saiz picked up his third foul at the 13-minute mark. Baylor used his absence to put together a 14-2 run to give it the lead for the first time. It started with layups from Lindsay and Lual-Acuil Jr. followed by consecutive three-pointers by sophomore guard King McClure and Lecomte. Motley ended the run by hitting a pair of free throws.

Over the next eight and a half minutes, Baylor and Ole Miss exchanged blows back and forth as the game saw four ties and six lead changes before Lindsay’s three ended the trend.

Saiz and freshman guard Breein Tyree were the bright spots for Ole Miss as both finished with 20 points. Junior guard Cullen Neal chipped in with 13.

Ole Miss dropped to 12-9 overall and 0-4 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Running Rebels will host Mississippi State at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Baylor improved to 20-1 overall and will look to move up in Monday’s AP Poll. It also improved to a perfect 4-0 in the challenge, with wins previously over Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Georgia.

The Bears are now preparing for perhaps their stiffest challenge yet. Baylor will hit the road to take on No. 2 Kansas at 8 p.m. Tuesday at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan, where the Jayhawks boast the longest home court winning streak in the nation at 48 straight games. The game will air on ESPN2.