KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Baylor senior point guard Manu Lecomte has already shown his versatility in many ways this season.
In the first round of the Hall of Fame Classic, the No. 22 Bears needed Lecomte’s superb free throw shooting to hold off Wisconsin for a 70-65 win Monday night at the Sprint Center.
Lecomte scored a game-high 24 points and nailed 13 of 15 free throws as the Bears improved to 4-0 heading into the championship game of the Hall of Fame Classic Tuesday against Creighton (4-0). The Bluejays raced to a 100-89 win over No. 23 UCLA on Monday.
The Bears watched their 19-point second half lead shrink to 57-55 when Ethan Happ scored inside for the Badgers with 2:15 remaining. Happ finished with 23 points while pulling down 13 rebounds.
Baylor got the ball to Lecomte who was fouled on a 3-point attempt and nailed all three free throws. He hit 10 of 11 free throws in the final two minutes to seal the win.
“Manu showed what a great point guard does down the stretch,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew in his postgame radio interview. “We played really well for 30 minutes and then all of a sudden somebody put a lid on the basket and we couldn’t make layups. If you can make no field goals in the last 8:30 and shoot 25 percent in the second half and still win, you must be playing some defense.”
Baylor senior center Jo Lual-Acuil had a big night as he scored a career-high 19 points while grabbing 10 rebounds. Lual-Acuil collected 16 points and eight rebounds in the first half and was superb defensively in the paint. The Bears shot 56 percent in the first half and raced to a 38-26 lead.
“Manu did a great job of putting me in position to be effective,” Lual-Acuil said. “I’m kind of an under the radar guy, and I’m playing with a chip on my shoulder. But we need to clean it up. We got too sloppy.”
Lual-Acuil established his dominance immediately to open the game as he scored the Bears’ first eight points. Lecomte topped off a 10-0 run with a pair of 3-pointers as the Bears opened up a 14-4 lead.
Wisconsin (2-2) cut Baylor’s lead to 14-10 as Happ got inside for a pair of baskets. But Terry Maston came off the bench to nail his first career 3-pointer and Lual-Acuil followed with a trey to push Baylor’s lead to 20-10 with 11:07 left in the first half.
With Maston getting inside for three baskets and Lecomte draining another 3-pointer, Baylor stretched its lead to 32-19. Wisconsin finally got into a groove as D’Mitrik Trice nailed a trey and Happ passed to Khalil Iverson for a slam to cut Baylor’s lead to 33-26.
But the Bears closed the first half with Lual-Acuil nailing his second 3-pointer and Tristan Clark getting loose for a breakaway slam to stretch their lead to 12 points at halftime.
The Bears continued to play well early in the second half as they extended their lead to 53-34. Clark had a pair of baskets and Lecomte found Lual-Acuil for an alley-oop slam.
The Badgers got back into the game behind Happ’s inside play and a pair of 3-pointers by Brad Davidson. But the Bears collected themselves in the final two minutes as they hit 13 of 15 free throws.
“We knew Wisconsin would make a run, but we stuck together and had a lot of grit,” Lual-Acuil said. “The biggest thing is the mental toughness we had. Once they went on a run everybody stayed positive and we won the game.”