So much of this season has been about Baylor putting its reputation to rest. The Bears, under Scott Drew, have been the subject of so much ridicule over the years despite a high level of winning because they always seem to have a proclivity for doing some silly things on the court that costs them wins in inexplicable ways.
That’s mostly been a thing of the past this season as Baylor rose all the way to a No. 1 ranking and went into play Wednesday with a 20-3 record, though with some questions due to a two-game losing streak.
That skid was snapped in a 72-69 win at Oklahoma State, but the questions aren’t going anywhere after the Bears flirted with a meltdown of significant proportion.
After an up-to-that-point strong road performance, the final 4 minutes was a nightmare that the Bears woke up for just in time to secure a victory.
Manu Lecomte’s 3-pointer with just over four minutes to play seemingly sealed the game for Baylor when it put them up 14, but then the Bears just self destructed.
They went 0 of 3 from the floor with four turnovers in the last 4 minutes, allowing Oklahoma State to pull within one and actually have possession of the ball with a chance to take the lead with under a minute to play.
Baylor got a stop, two free throws from Lecomte and then survived a last-season heave from Phil Forte to finally close things out after needlessly turning a sure thing into almost-disaster.
A road win is a road win, and Baylor has to be thrilled with the way it competed for 36 minutes. Johnathan Motley was unstoppable, scoring 24 points on 9 of 12 shooting while grabbing 11 rebounds. Lecomte had 15 points and four assists Jo Lual-Acuil had three blocks. It was a gutty performance against a Cowboys squad that has been on a tear, winning five straight.
Those last four minutes, though, have to concern Baylor. They went from unflappable to skittish. Turnovers were an issue in their back-to-back losses to Kansas and Kansas State that preceded their trip to Stillwater and they certainly were a culprit in the shellacking they took at the hands of West Virginia earlier this season. Seeing how Baylor nearly folded against Oklahoma State’s pressure late only stokes fear that Baylor’s got a ballhandling problem. That’s not something you want in the NCAA tournament.
For the Cowboys, it’s a missed opportunity as they try to pull out of hole their 0-5 start to Big 12 play created. Baylor was the superior team for the vast majority of the game, but when you get a chance to steal a victory in the final minute at home against a top-10 team, it’s going to sting when you don’t capitalize. That pain will be especially acute if Oklahoma State finds itself on the wrong side of the bubble in a month.
For Baylor, the task will be to ramp back up to a high level of play and consistency over the next week-plus ahead of Kansas’ visit to Waco on Feb. 18. The last week has been shaky for the Bears, but if they can steady themselves, that No. 1 seed is still very much in play.