By Ben Everett | Sports Writer
Baylor’s season came to a close on Sunday afternoon at the Ferrell Center in a back-and-forth battle with Mississippi State that, in many ways, resembled the Bears’ season as a whole.
Baylor trailed by as many as 20 points in the first half and found itself losing 47-33 at halftime of the NIT second round game.
The Bears (19-15) roared back in the third quarter, outscoring the Bulldogs (24-11) 25-10 to take the lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Baylor led 71-62 with just over four minutes remaining, but fell victim to Mississippi State’s full court press defense and the game was tied at 75 apiece with under a minute left.
In the end, Mississippi State surged ahead with a 3 at the buzzer to win 78-77.
Senior guard Manu Lecomte made a move towards the basket with 10 seconds left and banked in a floater to give Baylor the lead with five seconds on the clock, but the Bulldogs wasted no time slinging the ball down the court to junior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon, who ended the Bears’ season with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
Baylor head coach Scott Drew said he was left wondering what more the Bears could have done having fought back into the game.
“In one-point games you analyze everything,” Drew said. “But the good thing is our guys didn’t quit. They didn’t give up and they battled back and put us in a position to win.”
A heroic shot from Lecomte and a record-setting performance from senior forward Terry Maston turned out to be too little too late for the Bears.
Maston outscored the Bulldogs single-handedly 12-10 in the third quarter en route to a career-high 26 points and a Baylor postseason record with 13 made field goals.
Maston said they knew the postseason was in jeopardy, so they had no choice but to fight back after being down at halftime.
“We knew the season was on the line,” Maston said. “We worked so hard to fight back from starting 2-7 in conference. It kind of just propelled us to go out and try to get this game.”
The Bears finished sixth in the Big 12 standings, a feat that seemed improbable after their 2-7 start in conference play.
Drew said Baylor has been battling all season long, but just never made it over the hump.
“When we got down early in conference, we battled back,” Drew said, “That’s what we did here. It was very similar to conference in that we couldn’t get over the hump.”
The Bears’ season was characterized by ups and downs. In non-conference play, Baylor put together two separate five game win streaks, but ugly losses to Wichita State and Xavier tainted its resume.
A 2-8 stretch that ran for more than a month put Baylor squarely on the outside of the NCAA Tournament picture before a miraculous five-game winning streak in conference play had the Bears as high as fifth in the conference.
The rest of the way, however, Baylor went 1-4 and missed out on the big dance for the first time in four years.
Drew said the up and down nature of the season made was tough for the Bears.
“It’s hard to get momentum,” Drew said. “The losses take it out of you. Win one, lose one, win one, lose one, it wears on you.”