By Ben Everett | Sports Writer
No. 1-seeded Baylor men’s basketball took care of business on its home floor against No. 8 seed Wagner 80-59 Tuesday night to move on to the second round of the NIT.
The Bears (19-14) jumped out to an early lead on the Seahawks (23-10) and never trailed in the opening round win.
Senior guard Manu Lecomte scored a game-high 24 points on eight of 14 shooting from the field, including going five for eight from the three-point line.
The Bears had a clear size advantage from the start. Baylor’s starting front court consisted of 6-foot-9 inch senior forward Nuni Omot and 7-foot senior center Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. Wagner trotted out a duo of 6-foot-8 inch junior A.J. Sumbry and 6-foot-7 inch freshman Nigel Jackson.
The size proved to be overwhelming for the Seahawks as Baylor outscored Wagner 32-22 in the paint and recorded six blocks to Wagner’s one. However, the Seahawks recorded 20 offensive rebounds and outrebounded the Bears 39-37 overall.
Baylor head coach Scott Drew said he expected Wagner to compete on the boards but the Bears need to do better.
“I wasn’t surprised at all by their offensive rebounding,” Drew said. “They’re the seventh best offensive rebounding team in the country according to KenPom. We got to be better in the next two rounds on the boards.”
Despite the height advantage, the Bears looked to the three-point line to get their offense rolling early. Omot, junior guard Jake Lindsey and Lecomte each knocked one down from long range as Baylor held a 12-7 lead at the 4:31 mark of the first quarter.
Wagner sophomore guard Blake Francis scored 10 straight points for the Seahawks on a series of pull-up jumpers to make it a 29-19 game at the 6:29 mark of the second quarter.
The Seahawks cut the lead to seven points, but Lecomte scored Baylor’s final 11 points of the half to give the Bears a 40-27 lead going into the break.
Lecomte scored on an in-bounds play after passing to himself off of Wagner forward Shack Scott’s back to help Baylor to a 50-37 lead at the 4:06 mark of the third quarter.
Francis knocked down his fourth three of the night and Scott scored on a put back as Wagner cut the lead down to 53-43 at the end of the third quarter.
The Bears began to pull away in the fourth quarter. Lecomte drained a long three-pointer off the dribble and then followed it up with a half-court alley-oop to Omot for the slam to put Baylor up 65-45 with 6:26 remaining in the game.
A pair of dunks by Omot and an appearance by walk-on senior forward Jonathan Davis capped off the win for the Bears, 80-59.
Maston said Baylor felt snubbed by the NCAA Tournament Committee on Sunday, but they have a new goal in mind now after moving on in the NIT.
“It wasn’t easy,” Maston said. “But we’re grateful that we’re still playing and we still have a chance to cut down the nets somewhere else.”
The Bears will move on to face the winner of No. 4-seed Mississippi State and No. 5-seed Nebraska in the Ferrell Center. Date and time are to be determined.