CINCINNATI, Ohio — No. 16 Baylor knew it would take an extraordinary effort to beat No. 21 Xavier before a sellout crowd on its own floor.
Though the Bears got within two points early in the second half, the Musketeers pulled away down the stretch to take a 76-63 win Tuesday night before 10,503 fans at Cintas Center.
After opening the season with five straight wins, the Bears dropped their first game of the season. They snapped a 21-game nonconference regular season winning streak heading into Saturday’s matchup against No. 8 Wichita State at the Ferrell Center.
The Bears struggled offensively after senior forward Terry Maston went out early in the second half with an injury to his right (shooting) hand. Maston had come off the bench to hit seven of nine shots and scored 15 points in the first half. Maston will undergo X-rays Wednesday to learn the extent of his injury.
“We’ll have to find out if T.J. (Maston) broke his hand or not,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew in his postgame radio interview. “It’s one thing to lose a game, but you don’t want to lose players, especially when you only have eight scholarship players.”
Despite his injury, Maston led the Bears in scoring while Manu Lecomte and Mark Vital scored 11 apiece and King McClure scored 10. The Bears shot just 42.9 percent overall and hit five of 16 3-pointers, and were hammered on the boards, 38-28.
Xavier (6-1) extended its nonconference home winning streak to 34 games and beat the Bears for the first time after three losses in the series, including a 76-61 decision last season at the Ferrell Center.
The Musketeers were led by guards Kaiser Gates and J.P. Macura with 19 points apiece. They combined for all eight of Xavier’s 3-pointers as Gates hit five of eight and Macura drained three of six.
“The great thing is that playing Xavier will help us down the road,” Drew said. “Playing games like this early in the year, you know how tough you have to be mentally and physically on the road. They did a great job being physical and rebounding.”
Macura banked in a long 3-pointer to end the first half as the Musketeers grabbed a 39-34 lead.
But the Bears came out hot in the second half as Lecomte nailed a 3-pointer and Nuni Omot got inside twice for baskets to cut Xavier’s lead to 45-43.
Xavier answered with a 12-0 run to open up a 57-43 lead with 11:41 remaining. Macura opened the stretch with a drive to the basket followed by Naji Marshall’s basket and four straight free throws.
Macura then stole the ball and passed to Quentin Goodin for a layup. Goodin found Sean O’Mara for another layup.
With Maston out of the game, Vital gave the Bears a boost off the bench as he scored on a putback, hit a pair of free throws and got loose for a slam. With Lecomte’s layup, the Bears cut the lead to 59-51.
The Bears kept pushing as Lecomte drained a 3-pointer and Vital got loose for a layup to trim Xavier’s lead to 61-56 with 7:32 remaining.
Baylor still had a chance when McClure scored on a drive to cut Xavier’s lead to 67-61, but Goodin hit a pair of free throws with 2:58 remaining.
After McClure failed to finish off a drive to the basket and Omot missed a 3-pointer, Gates knocked down a 3-pointer to extend Xavier’s lead to 72-61 with 1:28 remaining.
The Bears played catch-up most of the night as Xavier hit five of its first eight 3-pointers to open up an early 21-8 lead.
“They did a great job jumping on us early,” Drew said. “One thing we didn’t want was to give up transition buckets, and that’s what we did. The crowd gets into it when that happens.”