With a lucky bounce on a 3-point attempt as time expired, Baylor fell to Mississippi State 78-77. The four seniors—Manu Lecomte, Jo Lual-Acuil, Terry Maston and Nuni Omot—have played their last game for Baylor.
Mississippi State shot out of their minds early. The Bulldogs entered the game 330th in 3-point percentage. But they went 8-of-12 from deep in the first half. Baylor’s defense was content to surrender the shot, and the Bulldogs sure made the Bears pay. Mississippi State scored 1.56 points per possession in the first half, well above Villanova’s nation’s best mark of 1.27 points per possession.
Baylor trailed by 14 at halftime. The Bears and Bulldogs traded 8-0 runs. Baylor kept pulling within seven or eight, then Mississippi State would answer.
The Bears finally made their move in the second half. After Lual-Acuil nailed two free throws, Mississippi State earned a technical foul coming up the court. Manu Lecomte drained the free throws, and the Bears pulled within three. The Bears kept it going from there, eventually leading by as many as nine points.
The third quarter was truly the Bear’s quarter. Maston scored 12 points. The Bulldogs scored 10. The Bears took 18 shots, while the Bulldogs took just nine. As poorly as the first half went for Baylor, the state of Mississippi had not collapsed like that since Vicksburg.
Mississippi State kept it close. Baylor only led 62-60 with 7:30 remaining. But Maston made another move. After a Lual-Acuil miss, he notched a great offensive board, made a put back and drew a foul. The Bulldogs made a runner to pull back within two.
Baylor's defense has stepped up in a big way. Mississippi State has scored 15 points in 1st 15 minutes of 2nd half after scoring 47 in the 1st half. Bears lead 66-62 with 5:17 to play.— Jerry Hill (@ViewFromHill) March 18, 2018
Nuni Omot answered with his own make. Thanks to a Mark Vital offensive rebound—where he beat three Bulldogs for the ball—Lual-Acuil was given the opportunity to make a hook shot to give the Bears a six point edge. Add in an Omot 3-point make, and Baylor led by nine points with 4:30 remaining.
The Bulldogs made one final push. They trailed by just one point with 1:00 remaining. But Maston made two giant shots late, including one with 47 seconds left to give Baylor a three point lead. That make went so high off the glass that Tim Duncan would have been jealous.
Lecomte made a floater with five seconds left. Mississippi State took the ball down two and fired a three at the rim. It bounced off the iron and landed in. One shot ended it.
The four seniors didn’t deserve this ending. Lecomte had made so many big shots for Baylor. He won Baylor their Second Round NCAA Tournament game against USC last season. Maston eviscerated Texas in Austin, and was Baylor’s only consistent offense for much of the year. Lual-Acuil emerged on the scene last year, helping the Bears knock off No. 4 Oregon and was the anchor of the two best defenses of the Scott Drew era. And Omot made big shots when the Bears needed them, including a pair of threes against Kansas. Those guys didn’t deserve for it to end like this.
This brutal ending was the perfect analogy for Baylor’s season. This team dealt with injuries all year, and today they were without Tristan Clark. This team dealt with certain teams getting way too hot, from Oklahoma in Norman to Mississippi State today. And it often made big runs that came up short, from starting 2-7 in Big 12 play to ending as one of the first four out of the NCAA Tournament. They made a magnificent run today, fighting from down 20. They just came up a little short. A microcosm of Baylor’s season.