Ish Wainright is the most respected player on the Baylor squad, an unselfish senior who cares a lot more about winning than his own stats.
The No. 11 Bears wanted more than anything to send him out with a win in his last game at the Ferrell Center. Thanks to an inspired closing stretch, they gave Wainright a great going-away present.
Overcoming an eight-point second-half deficit, the Bears repeatedly broke No. 10 West Virginia’s vaunted press in the final eight minutes to finish off a 71-62 win before 8,203 fans Monday night.
Wainright got emotional when he watched a video tribute for him following the game.
.”I promised my parents I wouldn’t cry out there, but I cried when I watched the video,” Wainright said. “This was extremely special. My last one, a great ride four years in the making. It’s always fun to win. This win gave us confidence and motivation.”
It was a much needed win for the Bears (24-6, 11-6) after losing three of their last four games. Heading into the final regular season game Saturday at Texas, the Bears are tied for third in the Big 12 with West Virginia (23-7, 11-6), a half-game behind Iowa State. The Cyclones face Oklahoma State on Tuesday night.
“It’s been a tough February, and that’s the Big 12,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “The big thing is we’ve got to get healthy. They get two days off now. that’s first and foremost. Because I tell you what, as us coaches figured out a long time ago, we’re better coaches when we have all our players healthy.”
The Bears played without point guard Manu Lecomte who didn’t suit up because of a sprained ankle that’s been nagging him the last three games. Wainright, who enjoyed a solid all-around game with seven points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals, said Lecomte still helped the team from the sideline.
“It felt like Manu was still out there,” Wainright said. “Every time out he would come up and tell us what we need to do. Because he’s so used to being out there he understands where the ball needs to get to. If Mot hasn’t gotten a touch in the two possessions, he’ll come to me or Jake (Lindsey) and say, ‘Hey, it’s time for Mot to get a touch.’”
Johnathan Motley was a beast in the paint for the Bears with 23 points, eight rebounds and three blocks while nailing all 11 free throws. He got a boost from seeing his mother cheering from the Baylor student section.
“The crowd loves her and we feed off her,” Motley said. “She’s always supported me through everything I do.She’s always been a crazy supporter. She loves this team and loves Ish and she does everything she can to contribute to the win.”
Jo Lual-Acuil contributed 11 points and 10 boards while Al Freeman nailed three of five 3-pointers and scored 12 points off the bench. The Bears played superb defense as they limited the Mountaineers to a 37.3 shooting percentage and just three of 15 3-pointers.
While the Bears had 18 turnovers, that was much less than the season-high 29 they committed in an 89-68 loss to West Virginia on Jan. 10 in Morgantown. The biggest difference in the game was Baylor’s 43-23 dominance on the boards.
“They beat us to death on the glass,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins. “We’ve had a lot of days where we didn’t shoot it very well, but we found ways to win because we rebounded the ball. We just didn’t rebound the ball and they did a great job.”
Trailing 49-41 midway through the second half, the Bears had looked one dimensional with Motley scoring most of the points. But that changed the rest of the way as everybody got involved as Baylor outscored the Mountaineers, 30-13.
Motley started the comeback by slicing inside for a slam, drawing a foul and hitting the free throw. Lual-Acuil scored on a putback before Motley drove inside for a basket and then hit two free throws to give the Bears a 50-49 edge with 6:28 remaining.
After scoring just four first-half points, Motley exploded for 19 points in the second half.
“I was just being aggressive,” Motley said. “I was attacking more and making quicker moves. The coaches told me I had to make those quicker moves and once I got to the free throw line it all started coming together.”
West Virginia took its last lead when Jevon Carter hit a short jumper, but Lual-Acuil answered with a hook shot to give the Bears the lead. Motley stole the ball and passed to Wainright. With Freeman’s 3-pointer, Baylor stretched its lead to 57-51 with 4:09 remaining.
Baylor continued its impressive play as Motley hit a pair of free throws, Freeman drilled a trey and Lindsey nailed a pair of free throws to stretch the lead to 64-53. Carter, who scored 18 points, drained a 3-pointer for the Mountaineers.
Lindsey continued to be a force as he hit a drive as he was falling down followed by a free throw. Baylor finished off the win with free throws by Freeman and Motley.