The feelings were there. The lump in the back of your throat as you watched the New Mexico State Aggies not only keep it close in the 1st half, but take a 2-point lead into halftime. The thoughts were there. They were hitting some deep and difficult 3-pointers, knocking in 5 of 7 to end the half and get back in front. Baylor's All-American, Johnathan Motley, was taken out of the game by the refs just 10 minutes into it on two rather soft offensive fouls. Manu Lecomte, the Robin to Motley's batman was scoreless in the first half and had more turnovers (1) than assists.
Even with Al Freeman hitting 3 three-pointers and Terry Maston scoring 12 points, the Bears still didn't look right, at least through a pessimistic Baylor fan. The Aggies were doing "those things". You know, the lucky bounces, made shots from improbable players. They were making the plays and putting the Bears on their heals.
Then the second half started. With Baylor abandoning their zone defense, and the continued offensive excellent of Maston and Freeman, the Bears pulled away for an easy 91-73 victory that saw them lead by as many as 20 points.
It was a dominant effort on both ends of the court for Baylor, shooting 57% from the field and holding the Aggies to 44% overall and just two 3-pointers in the second half. Al Freeman led the Bears with 21 points, getting into the lane at will and attacking off the bounce. TJ Maston had 19 points on 9-12 shooting and also chipped in 9 rebounds. Johnathan Motley put together another double-double, scoring 15 points and 10 rebounds.
With 50-points in the paint, the Bears controlled the games most valuable real estate. Even Jo Acuil scored 16 points on 7-10 shooting.
Trailing 42-38 after a quick bucket to open the second half, the Bears went to work on a game-changing 22-5 run to lead 60-47 just 8-minutes into the second half. They weren't done yet, extending the lead to 68-48 on a Jo Acuil dunk off of a Jake Lindsey assist.
As the Aggies struggled to adjust to the man defense, struggling to get the ball inside against the much taller Baylor posts, they did not see the open 3-pointers that welcomed them in the first half. Instead, it was the mid-range game that the Bears left open, then closing off the offensive glass with Motley back into the game and controlling the paint.
When the Bears did get the ball, they looked to push the tempo and get the ball into the open court, especially when the Aggies tried to match the Bears size with two true post players and 7-foot-2 center Tanveer Bhullar. Time and time again, the Bears would get the rebound and push the ball past the lumbering Bhullar with Maston or Motley finishing at the other end of the court.
The Bears also took care of the ball in the second half, committing only 5 turnovers and going almost 14-minutes between turnovers in the second half. That stretch of time saw the lead expand from 47-44 to 80-64. With the Bears not giving the Aggies extra possessions by turnover or by offensive rebound, the Bears simply pulled out in front and put away the Aggies.
Five Baylor players scored in double figures, as Manu Lecomte scored 10 points, all in the second half, to join Freeman and the Bears three main post players. Jake Lindsey had 5 assists and zero turnovers as well. Ish Wainright, becoming the first Baylor Bear to play in four NCAA tournaments scored 8 points and pulled down 6 rebounds.
Guards Ian Baker and Braxton Huggins both scored 19 points for the Aggies, with Eli Chuha chipping in 11 points and 6 rebounds.
Baylor now awaits the winner of the SMU - USC game this afternoon. They will play the winner Sunday morning in Tulsa, Ok.