In clear danger of locking down last place in the Big 12 by two games, Baylor had the look of a desperate, determined team when it counted against Iowa State.
With the outside shots not falling, the Bears repeatedly drove into the heart of Iowa State’s defense in the second half and pulled away for an 81-67 win to snap a four-game losing streak Saturday night at the Ferrell Center.
The Bears (13-10, 3-7) still have a huge hole to climb out of to make their fifth straight NCAA tournament following a series of close losses in the first half of the Big 12 schedule.
But a last-place tie with Iowa State (12-10, 3-7) is a lot better than owning the cellar by two games.
“I think it was just determination,” said Baylor center Jo Lual-Acuil. “We knew coming into the game we had to win. T.J. (Maston) did a great job playing with energy and we didn’t want to leave here without a win. We just have to celebrate this one but we have another big one on Tuesday. That’s the way it is now for us: Every game is a big game.”
The Bears can still forge their postseason destiny with their toughest games coming up at home, including No. 7 Kansas on Feb. 10, No. 10 Texas Tech on Feb. 17, No. 15 West Virginia on Feb. 20 and No. 12 Oklahoma on Feb. 27. The Bears face Oklahoma State on Tuesday in Stillwater.
Terry Maston gave the Bears a huge lift off the bench with a career-high 23 points and five rebounds while Lual-Acuil collected 10 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. Though point guard Manu Lecomte missed all six of his 3-point attempts, he scored on numerous drives to the basket to finish with 14 points.
The Bears played tremendous defense by limiting the Cyclones to a 34.3 shooting percentage and owned the boards by a 43-35 margin. The Bears’ production in the paint overcame two for 14 shooting from 3-point range.
“We needed a win,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “And it was a great defensive effort by our guys to hold Iowa State, one of the better teams offensively in the country, to 34 percent and 67 points. Outscoring them in the paint, 52-28, was tremendous. We couldn’t throw it in the ocean from 3, but we were really good from 2.”
Baylor avenged a 75-65 loss to the Cyclones in Ames on Jan. 13 that was keyed by a 30-point outburst by freshman guard Lindell Wigginton. After giving the Cyclones a 32-30 halftime lead with 14 points, Wigginton didn’t score in the second half as he missed all seven shots.
“He’s a great player, and when he gets going he scores in bunches,” Drew said. “And I thought the second half, we really had a more concerted effort to just make sure that he became a passer more than a scorer. He had eight assists, but I thought we did a great job there.”
Trailing 38-36 early in the second half, the Bears went on a 15-0 run by attacking the basket.
“When we went into halftime they told us to be very aggressive and take the ball to the basket,” Maston said. “I know I was shooting a couple of fade away jumpers and they told me to get in there and basically force my will into the paint and get easy buckets. So that’s what I did and it ended up working out great.”
Lecomte started the streak by driving for a basket, drawing a foul from Zoran Talley, and hitting the free throw for a three-point play to give the Bears a 39-38 lead with 16:28 remaining that they wouldn’t relinquish.
King McClure did the same as he powered to the basket, drew a foul from Cameron Lard, and nailed his free throw for another three-point play. While the Cyclones kept missing shots, the Bears kept taking it to the paint as Lecomte hit a short jumper.
Then the Bears pulled off a five-point play.
Maston took the ball inside for a basket and was fouled by Solomon Young. Iowa State coach Steve Prohm was called for a technical, sending Lecomte to the line where he nailed both free throws. Maston hit his foul shot to give the Bears a 51-38 lead with 14:39 remaining.
“At home, you have the energy of the crowd, and we thought we could get it to the paint and good things were happening when we did,” Drew said. “So we definitely wanted to capitalize and keep going there, and T.J. gave us a great lift. We needed his 23 tonight, nine for 11.”
The Cyclones made one more run as they cut Baylor’s lead to 57-49. But Nuni Omot answered with a 3-pointer, Lual-Acuil scored on a putback and Jake Lindsey stole the ball and scored to open up a 64-49 lead with 7:50 remaining.