After losing its first two Big 12 games, Baylor had the look and body language of a desperate team against Texas.
The Bears made big-time blocked shots, hustled for every loose ball, and repeatedly sliced into the passing lane for steals.
With Terry Maston and Mark Vital delivering game-changing defensive plays, the Bears held Texas scoreless in the final five minutes to hang on for a 69-60 win before 7,119 fans Saturday afternoon at the Ferrell Center.
The Bears (11-4, 1-2) avoided their first 0-3 Big 12 start since an 0-6 start in 2006. With road games coming up at West Virginia and Iowa State next week, Baylor needed a win in the worst way.
“We’re going to have to grind out every game in the Big 12 because it’s so stacked,” Maston said. “We always preach defense and to keep them under a certain field goal percentage. So we were just trying to achieve that goal and play hard and play for each other.”
Baylor was clinging to a 63-60 lead after Texas freshman center Mo Bamba nailed a 3-pointer with 5:03 remaining. Maston tried to pass inside to center Jo Lual-Acuil but it was deflected into the hands of Jase Febres.
Upset over the errant pass, Maston pulled the ball away from Febres and drew a foul. He hit both free throws to give the Bears a 65-60 lead with 2:08 remaining.
“I know I had made one mistake, but like Coach (Scott) Drew says don’t let one mistake lead to two,” Maston said. “I just wanted to get it back for my team and change the momentum.”
On Texas’ next possession, Maston blocked Dylan Osetkowski’s shot to stop the Longhorns from scoring for the fourth straight possession. Vital drew a foul from Eric Davis and drilled both free throws to push Baylor’s lead to 67-60 with 1:30 remaining.
Vital came up with another critical defensive play when he swatted Matt Coleman’s shot near the basket into the Texas bench. Manu Lecomte sealed the win with a pair of free throws with 30 seconds remaining.
Drew emphasized playing with more defensive intensity during his halftime speech, and the Bears responded by holding the Longhorns (10-5, 1-2) to a 30.8 shooting percentage and 20 second-half points.
“We talked it over at halftime and said we need to step it up,” said Vital who finished with 10 points and seven rebounds. “If you know Coach Drew, it was a positive talk and we saw it in his face. It was very intense.”
The Bears continued to struggle with their outside shooting by hitting just three of 12 3-pointers, including two of seven by Lecomte who finished with 17 points after averaging just eight points in the first two Big 12 games.
The game featured two of the top centers in the Big 12 with Lual-Acuil matched up against Bamba, and 12 NBA scouts were on hand to watch. Lual-Acuil enjoyed a strong all-around game with 17 points, six rebounds, four blocked shots and three steals while Bamba collected 15 points, nine rebounds, five blocked shots and two steals.
“What I learned from this was that it was a physical game, and I’ve got to play harder for longer,” Bamba said. “He played from behind a lot, so I thought I was going to be able to get into my moves a little bit quicker without the guys digging in.”
With starting guard Andrew Jones missing the game with an undisclosed illness, Febres got his first start of the season for the Longhorns. After scoring 18 points on seven of nine shooting to give Texas a 40-38 halftime lead, Febres didn’t score in the second half as he missed his only two shots.
Febres, who chose Texas over Baylor out of Houston Westfield High School, hit a game-high four 3-pointers against the Bears after scoring just 21 points in his previous 11 games this season.
“We knew he liked Baylor because he narrowed it down to us and Texas,” Drew said. “We just didn’t know he liked the floor that much. Credit him, he had some open looks, but then we got to him and he made some contested shots. He did a good job, and I thought the second half we did a much better job not even giving him an opportunity to get looks.”