The Baylor Bears season was on the brink of ending to another double-digit seed underdog. Though they advanced out of the first round for the first time since 2014, Baylor's reputation was on the line. With Johnathan Motley on the bench with four fouls, the Bears had to have someone step up. Though it took a while, that player was Manu Lecomte, the Bears second leading scorer and best 3-point shooter.
That would have been impossible to judge from the first two games of action in Tulsa though. Lecomte, starting his first game in several weeks due to a lingering ankle injury, was just 3-9 from the field against New Mexico State, scoring all 10 of his points in the second half. He was 0-2 from behind the arc, missing badly. The second game got off to an even more difficult start, where Lecomte missed his first 6-shots from the field.
Checking in with 8:16 left in the second half, Lecomte started his final spurt with an assist to King McClure on a made 3-pointer. After a missed layup though, the Bears got the ball back down by 2-points with just under 5-minutes to go. Over the next 46-seconds, Lecomte would go from struggling question mark to the biggest player in the game. How did he do it?
"I was struggling a little bit in the first half, so I had to pick it up. My teammates and my coach did a great job - they just kept believing in me. They kept me in the game. They trusted me with the ball in my hands, so I just had to go out and make plays" said Manu Lecomte.
As a shooter though, the run started before he even got the ball at the top of the arc. "I know I'm a great shooter, you know, and today I couldn't hit a shot. But like I said, my teammates kept trying to find me when I was open. They kept believing in me. I just gotta shoot when I'm open."
Manu has the trait that all great shooters have, believing fully that the next shot will go in. All of the hard work, the practice, the muscle memory to build a repeatable shooting stroke is important, but the mindset is critical.
It all started, as most good things on the basketball court do, with the ball getting into the paint. The Bears focus all season has been to get the ball down low to their post players. Their most effective way has been through the pass. However, when the Bears have been able to dribble-drive into the paint, it opens up another dimension of their attack.
This play featured Ish Wainright at the wing with the ball. With USC in a 2/3 zone defense, the Bears spread the floor with a 1-4 look, meaning a single post in the paint (TJ Maston) and four shooters around the perimeter. Wainright had the ball on the wing, with Lecomte at the top of the circle, McClure on the other wing and Jake Lindsey at the other baseline.
It was a simple post-up look, with Maston sealing his man, and Ish's defender on the wing dropping down slightly to stop the pass. Ish would adjust to find a better passing angle though dribbling twice towards the middle of the court. This would cause the top defender to sink down to him, leaving Lecomte open. Ish slung the pass to him off the dribble, giving the defense little time to adjust. With the Bears spreading the court, the other top-defender could not slide over, or leave McClure (who had hit 5 three-pointers in the game, including one just a few minutes prior from that exact spot) wide open.
A perfect pass awaited Lecomte, as Ish put it right into his belly, giving Manu a perfect shooting motion. With the defender out of position, he took an aggressive challenge across Lecomte's body, knocking his off-shooting hand during the follow through. With the made basket, and subsequent free throw, it was a 4-point play turning a 2-point deficit into a 2-point lead.
After a Lecomte steal and two made free throws, the Bears would again get the ball back after a missed Bennie Boatright 3-pointer. The Bears now had a bigger, more traditional lineup with Motley back in the game next to Maston. USC responded by going back to their man defense. This possession was an early pick and roll, featuring Lecomte and Motley in a 2-man game.
Motley put on a tremendous screen, setting up Manu to have 2-steps on his defender. With Motley's man worried about him, it left a clear lane to the paint for Manu, who hit a running jumper for his 8th point in a row.
The result of this masterful 46 seconds was a 4-point Baylor lead, a complete flip of the game situation and all of the momentum going the Baylor Bears way. It also put Manu Lecomte fully into Baylor tournament lore, going down as possibly the best 3/4s of a minute a Baylor player has every played.