By Jakob Brandenburg | Reporter
The Baylor men’s basketball team overcame a four-point, second-half deficit to defeat Southern California 82-78 Sunday night to advance to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.
The third-seeded Bears denied the 11th-seeded USC Trojans their third, second-half comeback in as many NCAA Tournament games. This will be their fourth appearance in the Sweet Sixteen in the last eight years.
Baylor led the game at halftime but trailed by four points with seven and a half minutes left in the game. Baylor junior guard Manu Lecomte then took over and scored eight points in a 45-second span to swing the game in the Bears favor.
In the postgame press conference, Lecomte talked about his second-half scoring flurry.
“I was struggling a little bit in the first half,” Lecomte said. “So I just had to pick it up. My teammates and my coach did a great job — they kept believing in me. They trusted me with the ball in my hands, so I just had to go out there and make plays.”
Lecomte finished the game with 12 points, all coming in the second half. Junior forward Terry Maston came off the bench and scored 19 points for the second consecutive game and added nine rebounds to his night. Despite being in foul trouble in the second half, junior forward Johnathan Motley notched his 15th double-double of the season with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Sophomore guard King McClure tied his career high with 17 points and established a new personal best with five 3-pointers in the contest. McClure was scoreless in Friday’s win over New Mexico State.
After the game, McClure talked about how he turned things around.
“I just credit that to my teammates and my coaches and just believing in me and telling me to be aggressive — keep shooting; don’t stop shooting,” McClure said. “When you know you have people behind you, you can do a lot of things, and as a result, I was able to go out there and put on a good performance.”
Chimezie Metu led USC with 28 points, 21 of which came in the second half. Bennie Boatwright added 16 points for the Trojans.
Both teams shot the basketball well. Baylor finished at 50.8 percent from the field, while USC hit 54.5 percent of its shots. The Bears outrebounded the Trojans by 11, which included a 14-to-six advantage on the offensive glass.
McClure got the scoring started for Baylor with a 3-pointer, but Boatright helped USC jump out to an 11-3 lead. Baylor responded with an 11-0 run of its own, to take the lead with 11 minutes left in the first half. The Bears would hold that lead for the remainder of the period.
With 3:36 left in the half, Motley threw down a ferocious dunk over Metu to make the game 31-23. Another dunk from junior forward Jo Lual-Acuil gave the Bears a 10-point lead, the largest they’d have all evening.
However, USC quickly cut the lead to five before the teams went into halftime. Baylor led 36-31.
In its previous two tournament games, USC had rallied from 15- and eight-point halftime deficits to win. Baylor Head Coach Scott Drew said he discussed USC’s flair for the dramatic with its coach Andy Enfield prior to the game.
“I actually joked with Andy,” Drew said. “I said, ‘Do you want to be up at halftime?’ He said, ‘No, no, we like being down.’”
Those words proved prophetic, as it took the Trojans less than two minutes to pull the game even at 36. With 12:21 left in the second half, USC took the lead for the first time since six minutes into the game and made the score 50-48.
At the 7:33 mark USC’s Jordan McLaughlan made a 3-pointer, the Trojans’ eighth consecutive make, and gave them a four point lead. Twice in the game, Maston’s buckets drew the Bears even with the Trojans down the stretch. Still, USC led 67-65 with 4:57. Then Lecomte happened.
With 4:42 left, Lecomte hit a 3-pointer off an Ishmail Wainwright pass and was fouled. He knocked down the free throw to complete the four-point play. Lecomte then stole the ball on USC’s next possession and was fouled. With the Bears in the bonus, Lecomte knocked down a pair of free throws.
Seconds later after a missed USC 3-pointer, Lecomte drove to the basket for a layup and a 73-67 Baylor lead.
With 2:50 left in the game, Maston made a vicious block on a reverse layup attempt, and on Baylor’s next possession Lecomte again drove the lane and made a floater to put Baylor up 76-70.
Motley, who had picked up four second-half fouls, drove the lane with 1:39 remaining and was called for a charge, fouling out.
Up 76-72, Maston missed a shot from the top of the key, got his own rebound, was stripped of the ball and committed a foul on Metu that put USC on the free throw line. Metu made both and cut the Baylor lead to two.
On Baylor’s next possession, Lecomte got to the basket again, and Metu was called for goaltending on the layup. The Bears led 78-74 with 28 seconds to go.
USC intentionally fouled Wainwright with 17 seconds remaining in the game. Baylor’s lone senior drained both shots from the line, and a defensive rebound and two more free throws from Maston sealed the win.
Drew talked about Baylor’s secret to success in making to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time under his command.
“It’s really about the players and how much they want to sacrifice for the team.” Drew said. “All year long, very simple — great leadership, great chemistry, great depth, and they deserve all the credit.
The Bears’ Sweet Sixteen game against No. 7-Seed South Carolina will be at 6:30 p.m. Friday in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The game will be televised on TBS.