By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
On Saturday, for the first time in history, the NCAA selection committee divulged the top four seeds in each region of the upcoming NCAA tournament. Finding its spot as the third-ranked, No. 1 seed was Baylor men’s basketball.
Later that day, Baylor completely smothered TCU 70-52 at the Ferrell Center behind junior forward Johnathan Motley’s 25 points.
On Monday, the accolades continued. The Big 12 conference office announced that junior guard Manu Lecomte earned the Phillips 66 Big 12 Newcomer of the Week award for the third time this season. He previously took the honor on Nov. 4 and on Jan. 3.
In Wednesday’s 72-69 win in Stillwater, Okla., against Oklahoma State, Baylor head coach Scott Drew called on Lecomte even more than usual. Lecomte played 37 of 40 minutes, seven more than his average of 30 per game this season. His 15 points was second on the team behind Motley’s 24, but he tossed in four assists and a steal.
Perhaps his most important contribution was his poise at the free throw line down the stretch. After the Cowboys went on a late 12-0 spurt to cut Baylor’s lead to just one, Lecomte stepped up and hit two free throws that forced Oklahoma State to go for the three and the tie. Both attempts by the Cowboys were off the mark.
Drew said the team’s toughness down the stretch was the key, including Lecomte’s composure at the line.
“Jake’s [Lindsey] toughness and Ishmail’s [Wainright] toughness down the stretch to keep it together and keep poise was great,” Drew said. “Manu [Lecomte] could have missed those free throws, but he stuck together and made those. Especially after what had just occurred, we could have easily rattled and lost this thing very easily.”
Against TCU, Lecomte once again was asked to play extra minutes, contributing 32 minutes on the court. He was an efficient six of 11 shooting and connected on three of his six 3-point attempts. He finished with 17 points, two assists and one steal. He also did not commit a turnover against the Horned Frogs, something that bothered him in his play down the stretch against the Cowboys.
“At the end, it was me who turned the ball over twice in a row,” Lecomte said. “We can’t afford that, but hopefully we can learn from that.”
On the season, Lecomte has a nearly two-to-one assist to turnover ratio. However, in Big 12 play, his ratio is nearly one-to-one. Yet, the way he handled the pressure and took care of the ball on Saturday is a good omen for Lecomte and the Bears moving forward with matchups against Kansas and West Virginia, two teams that can pressure the ball and force turnovers on the horizon.
Before the rematch with Kansas on Saturday, the Bears had to hit the road to Lubbock against a tough Texas Tech team. The Red Raiders were coming off a heartbreaking 80-79 loss at home to the Jayhawks and pushed Baylor for 40 minutes before the Bears prevailed 65-61 on Jan. 25.
Lecomte was just three of 11 shooting in the first meeting for 10 points but did contribute five assists in 36 minutes against the Red Raiders.
On Monday night, Lecomte finished with 16 points in 27 minutes but fouled out with eight minutes to go, as the Bears fell to 84-78 to Texas Tech.
Lecomte and Baylor look to rebound at noon Saturday at the Ferrell Center against Kansas.